What do you expect?

Hygge is comfort, the long sweater love lingering conversation over coffee leaves falling sweet scents of breads fresh from the oven and joy of the soul. Dreamy.

School has begun again, and it always makes me want to rewatch You’ve Got Mail and buy sticky notes. A friend once brought me a bouquet of sharpened pencils for my first day as a teacher. I still have it on display. We need these comfort items, these fall season favorites, these cold air reminders of warmth and grace that hold us when stormy weather hits again. They sing the tune of self-care. Like a line of beauty products boasting future perfect looks. We purchase and plod on with hope.

Expectations grow unknowingly under our skin. We don’t even always see the disappointments coming because we can’t see the insides of our hearts. I have been there. I know hygge, but I can’t explain what causes that overwhelming cold feeling sweaterlessness and almost empty coffee cup that hits us all sometimes.

I remember being very poor as a kid, my pastor father praying in money for necessities. We always had enough, our needs met, but no more. I remember wanting a pair of ballerina flats—dancing shoes I called them. Then a family brought over a few garbage bags of their hand-me-down clothes. I remember thinking this was it—I would finally get to be a ballerina. With total faith, I ripped through those bags. A few usable tank tops, a skirt, and last but not least… a pair of running shoes. Not dancing shoes, just these—“good for moving in” mom said to my downcast face.

Langston Hughes asks, “What happens to a dream deferred?” in one of my favorite poems. “Does it dry up? …fester? …stink? Or does it explode?”

My hygge heart prepares its perfect days: its cozy-by-the-fire, happily-tucked-in days. So when storms come, I don’t always feel armed for them.

Last week in a meeting my boss flippantly asked, “Who in here is living Plan A?” and called for a show of hands. No hands—I was surprised. I guess I thought at least a handful had always planned to be right there. He laughed then and said something about how our culture of Instagram immediacy has us showing false identities, building false hope. It struck me then as it did again last night at the school’s first football game that we don’t always realize when we have A-list Plans. I knew five players who had injuries from practicing that wouldn’t allow them to play this game. They were disappointed, trying not to show it. I know that move. To a sophomore linebacker, the weight of disappointment can seem unbearable. They were supposed to play in the big game. I was supposed to be married with kids by 25. We white-picket-fence dreamers often miss the two-story farmhouse for the fence post.

Whatever plan I’m in might feel set in stone, but it’s not. I know that life can change in a second. Perhaps we need to bolster against the expectations and learn to love the moment. Easier said than done, but maybe this is where hygge comes in and why European countries made the term famous. It may seem starry-eyed illogical to keep hygge in our hearts all the year long, but I believe the bolster is necessary for survival. This mindset becomes a cushion of hope in a spinning Plan B-Z world. So we stoke the fires, we buy the sweaters, we sip the coffees. We offer ourselves permission to cease striving and let our hopes lie in the next thing only—in the second cup of coffee that means the best of conversations. Perhaps changing the moments for the better means we change the world in small steps. We could perhaps then enjoy the everydayness of hygge living. We need the lapse of winter to appreciate the spring. We need the fall to ease us into winter. Perhaps hope is more than just a cushion for the longing. Maybe it’s more like seeing beyond the goal to the small steps that ease us there.

Last night, after the game, a friend unknowingly brought up “Plan B” living. She said it’s about being present and running after what you want. We were sitting by her fire. She had just made fresh popcorn—the best. It made me think of life’s small disappointments that have brought me to this place. Perhaps in the end, hope and hygge look most like a pair of running shoes.


Stephanie Platter is a teacher, writer, film critic, and coffee lover who was a fan of all things hygge long before she heard the word.

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