Hygge has made it to my town library!  Hygge’s a Danish word, pronounced Hoogie, it’s branded as a Scandinavian approach to happiness.   I’d seen references to this trend on TV and in magazines and found it intriguing.  When How to Hygge appeared on the New Books shelf, I eagerly checked it out.

The elements of hygge as presented in the book: get exercise, preferably outside.  Value and treasure hanging out in the house with family and friends.   Take pleasure in eating and drinking, especially homemade pastries, preserved fish dishes, and glog.  Lots and lots of glog.  Wear thick socks and cuddle up in soft blankets, watching the fire.   Have a home that features simple wood furniture, with minimal clutter, but with plenty of books and candles and cut flowers (but only of the same color, evidently two or three colors is not Nordic).  Take pleasure in mastering skills like wood chopping and room painting.

Part 1 – Exercise, preferably outside 

“I just bought these boots this morning,” said Dave, as we hippety-hopped—or, more often splashed–our way along the muddy trail.  Both Dave and Sonny (Sonny was home for Easter weekend) had been up for a family hike around the Ponkapoag Pond.    The pond is surrounded by woods.  The trees were still bare, the spring buds just starting to appear.  The ground was mostly dirt and rocks and fallen tree trunks, some of them obviously recent uproots after a viciously windy set of storms.  April showers had made navigating the trail more of a challenge.  Dave was the only one of us who had appropriate shoes, and he wasn’t yet ready for them to get too muddy.  Meanwhile, Sonny and I wore sneakers, not waterproof.  After about 20 minutes, my socks were soaked through.

We backtracked and tried a different trail, where another few minutes’ hike found us water-logged again.  Where the water hit the trail, though, we got to enjoy a patch of vivid green vegetation, a hopeful vision.

“Who wants to go back to the car?” asked Sonny.

Part 2 – Treasure time spent with family and friends 

“So who wants to hang out tonight?” I asked.

“Hang out and do what, Mom?”

“Make a fire.  Sit on the couch and talk.”

“But it’s 60 degrees outside.  And didn’t we talk at dinner last night?”

“There’s hockey and baseball on,” said Dave.

I would have to finish the hygge experiment on my own.

Part 3 – Eat, drink, and make your house hygge

I decided to conduct this part of the trial in my studio, where I already had cut flowers–some pink, some purple–in a vase.   They were pretty, except for some raggedy bits where Capone the cat had nibbled at them.   While my studio vibe isn’t minimalist or Danish, I do have wood furniture and lots of books.  I put some candles on my desk and started moving them around, trying for a calming arrangement.   Now for the food and drink…The only pastries in the house were individually wrapped Entenmann’s cheese danishes, so I put one on a plate.  No glog in the house, either…I had a sore throat and headache starting, so I made a nice hot cup of Nighttime TheraFlu.  I lit the candles, took my snacks and a book, wrapped myself in a blanket, settled into my comfy chair, and waited for the hygge to hit.

I’m a quarter Norwegian, after all.  I figured that within half an hour I’d develop a contented, maybe slightly smug, happy feeling.  Forty-five minutes, max.

An hour and a half later: book finished, feeling fairly relaxed, but a bit disappointed.  I blew out the candles.  Wax had dripped onto my desk.

Part 4 – Take pleasure in mastering simple skills 

I spent 10 minutes getting the candle wax off my desk.   I can’t say I enjoyed it.

Part 5 – Aftermath

So I’ve failed hygge.  A quarter Norwegian turns out not to be quite Scandinavian enough.  Yes, hygge was pleasant, comforting, but it also felt like sinking in one of those beanbag chairs that kind of clutch at you and force you to contortionist measures in order to get up.

The closest I’ll ever get to hygge, I think, is the time I spend, most afternoons, drinking  a mug of coffee in my comfy chair.   The chair’s by the window, so I can look out at the garden and the street, with all its cars and trucks, and I can look at my office clutter and remind myself of what I’m trying to get done today, and I can enjoy the pictures on the wall, and I can check out Capone snoozing (dreaming of world domination) on the piano bench.  I get a teeny bit of relaxation, but by the time the coffee’s gone, I’m ready to bounce out of the comfy chair and head for the world outside The Nest.  Turns out that I need mess and energy alongside the calm.

Book ‘Em – A Rant

Currently high on my minor crimes against humanity list: anything that drives people out of brick-and-mortar bookstores.  I love bookstores.  Our family spends a lot of time in them.  Nowadays we do this less than previously, not because we have better things to do, but because bookstores are disappearing.   I miss Waterstone’s (long out of business in Boston) and Borders (about five years out of business here) and the many independent and secondhand booksellers who’ve gone out of business.

Sure, I can find just about anything online, but that kind of search takes away everything I love about books except for the reading of them.  Reading is paramount, but I adore walking into a bookstore.  Figuring out how things are organized, browsing.  The floors creaking under my feet as I wander into the cocoon of tall shelves filled with volumes, inviting me into thousands of worlds.  A cat sunning itself in the window.   Children’s books that spark memories of being six years old.  Comfy chairs.   The quiet sense of community that arises from knowing the other customers are my kind of people: book-lovers.

Last week I checked out the Amazon bookstore near me.  It’s organized kind of like the Amazon site, which comes across as charming rather than annoying.   Bare wood floors, which I liked, and a setup that encourages you to wind your way around the store.  Plenty of places to sit, but no comfy chairs.  An employee who greets you at the front of the store and then leaves you alone.

If only my local Barnes and Noble would follow that policy.  Over the past several months, every time I go to Barnes and Noble–which is what I do when I’m in the mood to procrastinate, rather than practice–at least one employee approaches me while I’m walking around the store, asking me if I want help.  No, I don’t want help.  There’s a clearly marked Customer Service desk in the middle of the store.  I’m wandering with my eyes wide because I that’s how I roll in a bookstore.  Plus now I have to wander because my B&N got rid of all of their comfy chairs.  The only seating is in the cafe.  Yesterday I visited B&N, and three–three!!–employees asked me if I needed help.  The third time, I had made brief and accidental eye contact with the employee.  I physically turned away, hunched my shoulders, and picked up a book–I was still asked if I needed help finding anything.  I put the books back and left the store without buying anything.  Now some of this might be spectrum-y of me; I find it stressful to have strangers come up and talk to me.  However, I’ve visited B&N literally hundreds of times in the past, and this level of enforced interaction is new.

I assume that the accost-the-customer strategy has been mandated by B&N management. It’s the kind of thing managers do.  Most bookstore employees are book people; they know that a lot of customers want to browse and commune, that the fun is in looking.   I’m not going to abandon B&N entirely, but it’s going to be a few months before I go back.  I’m hoping that by that time management will have gone back to nagging customers about loyalty cards at the cash register rather than chivvying them through the store.