Finding Hygge in the South


Last year I read the book The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking. Hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) has been quite the buzzword for the last couple of years. A word with its origins in the Nordic countries, hygge is equated with blankets, candles, wool socks, hot chocolate, and other cozy elements. Being homesick for my own Scandinavian origin of Minnesota, I was looking for that hygge resemblance.

At first, when I read the book, I thought about the lifestyle we have in the Lowcountry: sunny days, warmer winters, yes–rain, but I was convinced I couldn’t find hygge in the South. It just wasn’t a hyggely place because the temperatures didn’t dip low enough. And, oh, so sunny!

Then it happened.

We had a family photo shoot near Morris Island lighthouse. After rushing around, getting the kids dressed, and posing in front of the fading sunset, we thanked our photographer and started to drive home. The only problem was that we were famished. We looked along our route, and our friend GPS picked out an eating establishment for us. And it was perfect.

The sun had already set, so the air was crisp. There were outdoor twinkling lights circling the al fresco dining area. The lights looked as though they were dancing. The dining furniture was beach-chic: creative uses of pallets and other well-loved wood pieces. We grabbed some blankets from our car and snuggled in, waiting for our meal to arrive.

Before we knew it, our bowls of ramen and a dish of fish tacos had arrived. The ramen’s steam warmed our faces. We divided up pieces and all shared together. Although it was getting later and later, and we had a long drive before we could get the kids to bed, I didn’t want to leave. The air was enchanted.

It Was Hygge.

From the lighting to the snuggling to the warm bowls of ramen. I had found my hygge in the South.

But could it be repeated?

Winter soon morphed into spring, which basically meant summer had arrived. Then, before I knew it, the endless days of the summer heat gave way back to cool mornings and evenings. I started craving hot Norwegian fruit soup and wondered if I could learn how to make lefse or find an iron for krumkaka (Norwegian cookies).

I had an unusual couple of weeks. Weird timing resulted in friends canceling plans, way too many kid meltdowns, and a series of personal disappointments. I had the mulligrubs. Or what Holly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s would call the Mean Reds. Holidays were coming, I was stuck in South Carolina, and I was homesick. I needed some hygge.

So once again, I set off to find some.

It was a warmish day when my children and I started our hike. I had plans of conquering the longer trail that day, but what soon happened was that my children took over the agenda. Time slowed as they picked up colorful leaves, crouched to make friends with a bug, or just dawdled on the trail. Instead of hurrying them, I soaked in the moments. Later, realization dawned. Although the weather was sunny and not quite crisp, it was hygge. Turns out, hygge wasn’t really about the weather at all.  

Hygge was being with the ones I loved.

Hygge was being present.

Hygge was letting the agendas and stress of daily life give way to the beauty of nature, the joy of my children, and a slower pace.

Yes, I’m all for the occasional decadence of a hyggely treat, a chunky sweater, or the pleasure of a candlelight dinner. But hygge doesn’t need to be that sophisticated. And, no, I can’t neglect my daily schedules and routines every day. But in looking for hygge, I found the flow to my ebb. Every once in a while, everyone needs a slow-down. My Southern Hygge was found in making memories and remembering what was most important in life. It didn’t have to be planned (although planning probably helps), but it was simple. Uncomplicated. Memories are not necessarily captured with my smartphone. It was something I stumbled upon.

So this new year, let the hyggely moments accumulate.

Join me in making some plans for she-crab soup, cuddles on a rainy day, a boat ride in the sunshine, or a walk in the woods (or just around the neighborhood). Through slowing down and spending time with family and friends, I found my Southern hygge. Can you find yours?

Finding Hygge in the South