It's probably pretty obvious by now that I am mighty proud of being a Swede. I will flaunt it any chance I get. I've also found that pretty much everyone carries some familiar stereotypes of Scandinavia and its peoples -- the stunningly blonde, blue-eyed inhabitants, the pristine wilderness, perfectly minimal homes with IKEA furnishings out the wazoo, the long dark winters, the boats and the bicycles, the fairytale capitals....
Having only spent time in Norway (I can barely count my flight transfer in Stockholm as a visit to Sweden), I can completely attest to the breathtaking scenery, the wonder that is the midnight sun, the gorgeous design elements that are applied so effortlessly, and the beautiful, happy and mind-blowingly welcoming people. But there is so much more. It comes as no surprise to me that the Scandinavian countries are consistently ranked as having the happiest peoples, with the best quality of life, the most livable cities, and the hippest design. All I can say is DUHHH.
Scandinavia is an idealistic Valhalla that tops my list of places to spend more time. If a genie were to give me any wish, I would promptly answer to be granted a home in Sweden or Norway, with extensive visiting rights to Finland, Iceland, and Denmark. I have never been so in love with a place and its people, but exactly what is it that makes them so happy, pleasant, and successful?
For the happiest nations on earth, joy is found in life's moments.
It seems to lie in their ability to create intimacy, fellowship, and conviviality around everyday moments...the kind of moment borne from the region's exposure to extended cold and darkness and the need for people to come together, over the centuries, around a wintertime source of heat and light (Hygge*, however, is not exclusive to winter--it can be felt year round via picnics in the park, barbecues with friends, street festivals, trips to the fjords, and leisurely bike rides...anything which conjures feelings of pure love and happiness).
It is their ability to subsequently turn this very functional need into an almost spiritual experience that sets Scandinavians apart -- the magic of turning any situation into a moment of coziness, especially those shared with friends and family around the illuminating glow of a flickering candle flame (and we all know how much those Scandinavians love their candles!).
Each nation has their own term to describe this attitude...this feeling... and its spirit of Scandinavian-ness remains an exclusive club, as there is no direct international translation. 'Hygge' is Danish, the Swedes pronounce it 'mys', the Norwegians use 'kose' while the Finns - forever the different one - find their own warmth in 'lӓmpöӓ'. Regardless of the variance in names, each word stands representative of that same cozy, friendly, Scandinavian feeling and, perhaps, the secret to some of the happiest nations on earth.
Don't forget to find your own hygge this year. I am embracing mine by reaching out to long lost friends, sending more happy mail, and by being more open to spontaneous adventures. I'd love to hear about your own sources of hygge! Leave your comments below!
*pronounced similarly to "Hooga", with a wee bit of "y" blended with the first two letters. If that makes any sense. :D