Fellow bilingual people might know the sudden urge to switch from one language to another within the same sentence and then to switch back again. The problem is that this mechanism is not useful if your conversing partner does not know the language you are switching to. An even bigger problem occurs when you cannot translate the word you are thinking of. Case in point: hygge, a Danish word that can function as either a noun or a verb, which can describe a state, a sentiment, an action and more.
Some years ago, talking to an international student in Denmark, the word hygge - or the adjective form of the word, hyggelig - came up. He was thus introduced to an expression I could not directly translate, so I could only try to explain the concept of it and the English terms cozy, nice, and fuzzy came to mind, but none of them could quite match with the Danish term.
Fast forward to a couple of years later: Now I am the student abroad in an English speaking country (the UK). I was adapting to speaking and hearing more English and simultaneously having less contact with Danish, until I walk into a mainstream bookshop one day and come across a table covered with stacks of books which, to my pleasant surprise, had a Danish word in all the different titles - you guessed the word: hygge! Since then I have discovered that Denmark has made a name for itself and taken the world by storm - or at least Britain - with this curious concept that is only made more intriguing by its untranslatable quality. "What is it exactly? How do I get more of it in my life? How do I hygge like the Scandinavians?" An image of a large crowd of Brits racing to the nearest bookshop to get their hands on a book on hygge comes to mind. Well, as a Scandinavian myself I want to give you some reasons why you might want to fret a little less about the Danish term:
Firstly, the trendy concept is used to appeal to consumers. The enticing foreign term hygge is telling you how to decorate your home, what to drink and what to do to experience the Scandinavian way of life. As an individual, you might feel that you are missing out on some secret that could improve your life and you are thus lured to buy the latest book that will teach you how to get a piece of the Nordic pie. Maybe you want to think twice before you buy into anything because:
Secondly, chances are that you already have hygge in your life and now you just have a new word to describe it; maybe you like to cosy up with a cuppa and a good book, movie or board games on a Friday night. Maybe you are someone who likes to light candles all year round to create that warm hyggelig atmosphere, or perhaps you simply enjoy good company along with great food and tasty dessert. Does any of it sound familiar? Then you are on the right track of hygge.
Thirdly, hygge is not some secret to happiness only Danes know about. If impactful issues such as financial ones cause a lack of wellbeing in your life, a little hygge - while it might temporarily relieve stress - is not going to magically fix everything. In other words, hygge is a good supplement but is not a magic potion.
With that said, if a book on hygge can teach you to relax more and stress less, then by all means, look for inspiration in the Nordic concept. I love hygge and I even love the word, it is just so... hyggeligt! It is a simple idea that involves appreciating simple things and taking time to create feel-good moments in your daily life. Still, with some extra thought, you might see that you already have what they are trying to sell you.