Hygge vs lagom: a culinary battle?

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Over the holidays, I was given a book on hygge. It was one of the many handbooks that popped up over the course of 2016 – and I was intrigued. Flipping through its pages, I felt the same pull that hundreds of other people felt last year: elegant, simple type sat side-by-side with gorgeous images of hot coffee and fresh muffins, lazy brunches and warming soups. It promised a life of contentment and simple pleasures. With the New Year looming, and the pressure of self-improving resolutions on the horizon, this felt like my route to happiness.

Hygge, for those unfamiliar with this lifestyle sensation, is all about savouring the everyday. Often associated with cosiness, it certainly has an appeal in the grim grey cold of a Cambridge January – embracing hygge could be anything from lighting a candle, to lingering under your duvet with a cup of tea. And in the world of food and drink, it’s all about comforting soups and stews, hot drinks, and homely baking.

But it turns out it’s too late to jump on the bandwagon. According to Vogue, the Danish philosophy is being pushed aside this year in favour of its Swedish counterpart – lagom. This is an approach to life based on moderation and balance – not too much, not too little. And with term kicking off, and deadlines on the horizon, a little lagom in our work lives has its appeal as well.

But there’s something a little bit off about the Scandinavian trends sweeping our lives and our kitchens. Lifestyle philosophies built up over generations have become the buzzwords of a season, only to be pushed aside in favour of something new. So why hasn’t hygge worked for us? It’s the same reason that lagom isn’t going to bring us contentment in 2017, and why the #cleaneating you got so obsessed with in 2015 fell apart during your first essay crisis.

None of these approaches to our lives or our stomachs should be absolutes – in their original forms they allow flexibility, encouraging us to savour the things they advocate and prize when we can. But converted into social media sensations, we’ve lost the give – from lifestyle bloggers who seem to live in a constant state of gladness, to Instagram accounts crammed exclusively with virtuously healthy, gorgeously presented meals. Constantly bombarded with these highlights, we’re tricked into thinking that we can live and breath hygge or lagom all day every day.

What about the days when you don’t feel hygge at all – when morning sunshine and a cup of fresh coffee isn’t enough to dispel those dissertation worries? Or when you’ve come down with the flu, and just need to curl up in bed in your ugliest pjs and work your way through a box of tissues a bag of Sainsbury’s donuts? Or when you’re really angry, or sad, or tired? We can’t live our lives feeling constantly glad any more than we can live them in constant moderation or a constant state of good health. Trying to live your life like your Instagram feed is never going to work, and we shouldn’t try.

So what can we do instead? This year, as almost every year for as long as I can remember, my New Years resolutions have centred around food. I’ve been looking for the thing that all these lifestyle movements claim to offer – a sense of lasting contentment. But the shifting trends show that none of these quick-fix solutions are working – not for me, and not for most of us. A few months later, still feeling rubbish about our inability to be oh-so glad, or oh-so balanced, we’re looking for something new. And it needs to stop.

This year, I’m going to try to eat well, and listen to what my body wants. Sometimes, that’s going to mean the home comforts of hygge. Sometimes a simple lagom balance. And sometimes it’ll mean a fresh salad worthy of the cleanest eating lifestyle blogger. But no doubt it will also mean a quick sandwich from Sainsbury’s between supervisions, with little thought to savouring. Or a whole bag of cookies, because it’s cold and miserable and that’s what I want. And it’ll definitely mean chips after a night out, or even after a night in. But it’ll also mean eating for me and not for my Instagram – and hopefully, some real happiness along the way.

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