The Pursuit of “Hygge”

The sound of rain hitting the windows and running in the gutters woke me, and the warmth of my duvet was just right in comparison to the chill of our room. I wake up every morning in Kobenhavn K, which is pretty much the downtown area in Copenhagen. I live a 20 minute walk from just about every tourist attraction there is in town, and Copenhagen is quickly burrowing a place in my heart.

Before even wanting to study abroad in Denmark, I knew I was intrigued by the concept of hygge (hue-guh), as it has always been something I’ve endeavored to include in my day to day life.

If you don’t know about hygge: it is a Scandinavian concept of coziness and comfort that leads to a feeling of contentment. Think warm fireplaces with giant knit blankets while the snow falls on the ground outside. In Denmark, I’ve even heard people describe things using hygge, such as “if you could do this for me that would be very hygge,” reflecting how integrated this practice is into Danish culture. I like to think of hygge as a welcome departure from the hustle and bustle of American life and culture.

Speaking of which, I’ve recently been finding it difficult to turn my mind off. To cope with this seemingly constant state of stress, I have decided to integrate self-care days. On one such morning, I took a long shower and tidied up my space. As I made my coffee for breakfast, I was greeted by some of my friends who invited me out for brunch. Holding my impossibly hot cup of coffee, I was tempted to down it and head out with them, fearing that if I said no I would forever be the person left out.

But I was already socially exhausted, I had readings to do before classes started, and most importantly: I still had a coffee to drink. I passed on the brunch. I had my coffee with toast while I read for my Medical Ethics class, and for a while it was just me in the sunny kitchen. For the first time since arrival, I felt at home and relaxed; as my Danish friends would say, I found hygge.

Recently, my Complexity of Cancer class took a trip out to Naestved, Denmark, about an hour and half bus ride out of the city. The bus sped through rural and suburban sites in Denmark, providing the perfect canvas for my occupied thoughts. I’ve always enjoyed long commutes, as they provide the opportunity to nap and reflect. I experienced yet another twinkle of hygge, as the new Kings of Leon song, “Waste a Moment” blared through my headphones and the country flashed by.

We were visiting a “cancer coping center” called LIVSrum, which translates into “the room of life.” This project aims to create a space of liveliness for cancer patients and those affected by such a diagnosis. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the US—it is purely a space to practice mindfulness. We met with a woman named Hanne, who provides counseling for marriages and families, only one of the only formal services the LIVSrum provides.

The interior design was akin to the Danish concept of hygge, and the temptation to sit down and knit in the sun-washed rooms was difficult to ignore. It’s easy to see how this space is a necessary amenity to patients and their loved ones who are easily overwhelmed by the bustle of the hospital and treatment. Separate from the hospital, LIVSrum caters only to the mindfulness that is required to fight cancer.

Copenhagen is teaching me to incorporate mindfulness into my life. I love the narrow streets and the eclectic colors of the buildings, contrasted with the minimalist interior design. I love the parks within the city. But more than anything, I love the waterfronts. There is something about water that has always been so wondrous to me. Always changing, always flowing, and serene but understatedly powerful. It brings me so much joy to be so near to the water in this city, and all I can do is stop and take it all in.

Resfeber is the Danish word for “travel fever”. It is typically characterized by restlessness and is usually resolved after one arrives to their travel destination. Although I have already been living here for a short while, resfeber has yet to leave my system.

Rigel Bacani is the official student blogger for DIS Abroad’s Medical Practice and Policy program. For more on the DIS blog, click here.

Rigel Bacani
University of Tulsa ‘19
Denmark | Fall 2017