Discovering the meaning of wellness in Copenhagen. By Supriya Sehgal
Idle scrolling on the phone while commuting to work can unsuspectingly reward one with treasures. Mine was a gold mine of words that describes feelings of happiness and wellness. With an extra swift swipe of the thumb, I was immersed in cockaigne, French for an imaginary land of luxury and idleness; there was eudaimonia, the Greek word to describe a state of happiness, health, and prosperity; and hygge (pronounced hoo-guh), a Danish word that helps you articulate a feeling of well-being. More intriguing was the fact that none of these words have counterparts in English.
I wasn’t unfamiliar with hygge. An encounter with it took me back a year and a half, when I was in Copenhagen. I was walking along Harbour Bath Island Brygge, and couldn’t help but notice an abiding unhurried vibe. I attributed it to a cheerful sunny day—there was a patch of grass to sunbathe on after a dip in the common city pool, which was across the road from where I was standing. Everyone looked unflustered and satisfied. Picnic baskets propped on chequered spreads, colourful sun umbrellas, and people in swimsuits made for a perfect recipe for unwinding. Later, a local friend explained that this inexplicable feeling of calm and collectedness was closest to hygge, although my summery version of this was off by a couple of months. Hygge is usually associated with a cosy, Christmas-y ambience of snow, hot cocoa or whiskey, friends by the fireplace, and a holistic feeling of nourishment. If only there had been some intimacy to the scene, I would have been completely accurate about the essence of the word. It is derived from a 16th-century Norwegian term, hugga, which meant ‘to comfort’. Some say it could be related to the English word ‘hug’.
Once articulated by my friend, and firmly lodged in my memory, the idea only found encouragement in the succession of experiences that day. The feeling of conviviality seemed to seep into every occasion in Copenhagen, and I was the ideal target for imbibing the spirit of hygge. It hung over restaurants, embraced one during a walk around Freetown Christiania, and was certainly present in the pubs of Nyhavn, the most popular waterfront walkway in the city. The ubiquitous feeling of fulfillment permeated the entire city.
In the spotlight of the happiest moments of my time was a walk through Vesterbro, the erstwhile meat packing district of the city that is now the hotspot for hip bars, art galleries, and shops. What entirely embodied hygge was an old building, wedged between relatively newer graffitied walls. It was Central Hotel & Café, the world’s tiniest hotel. Expecting to get a room for a night was heretical, since it’s always booked for the next few seasons. Not surprising, since there is only one room to let out. Instead, I had to make do with a coffee at the cafe on the ground floor. This was no cutting edge cafe like the others in Vesterbro, but certainly worthy of the pilgrimage for its relaxed vibe. Having hurried down the cobblestoned street that led up to Christiansborg Tårnet—Copenhagen’s highest point—and through the Carlsberg factory, and making a quick stop at The Little Mermaid statue and Amalienborg Palace, a break at Central gave me a taste of the most authentic flavour of hygge. I finally understood why this feeling was celebrated across the country, and why the Danes are known to be the happiest in the world.
The year after my trip, the bestseller The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living hit the stands. Naturally, I rushed to the bookstore to get my hands on a copy. Author Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Institute in Copenhagen, explained the idea of hygge to readers across the world with feel-good examples. The word gained so much prominence that, in the same year, Oxford Dictionaries shortlisted hygge as one of their ‘Words of the Year 2016’.
That evening, book in hand, I lay in bed in my most worn-out pyjamas, with the family dog at my feet. It couldn’t have been a better ode to my hangover of hygge.
Take a direct Qatar Airways flight from Delhi to Copenhagen.
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