Hygge: Creating Community at Work

I'm a sucker for a good breakfast potluck.

Every morning I climb the stairs to the second floor where my office and classroom are, and if it's early enough, only a handful of students sit sleepily on the bench outside finishing up homework. 

It's taken the better part of 10 years, but I've found people that make me happy to walk into the building every morning and I'm lucky. They challenge me. They are passionate and intelligent. I can leave personal things behind if I want to and talk about ideas.

Lately, however, I've been talking about personal things, and in my ensuing crisis I began looking for community. I spend a lot of time with the people at work, and because I feel they are my people for once, I latched onto a very United States interpretation of a Danish idea: Hygge and food.

Breakfast burritos turn into breakfast nachos when we are in faculty meetings all day.

Breakfast burritos turn into breakfast nachos when we are in faculty meetings all day.

Hygge has been difficult to explain with language. It translates sloppily to "coziness" but the implicit message is the comfort. The presence of community in a place of darkness. The simplicity of that presence and the way it pulls me out of a darkness I can't control.

I want to know who you really are, I say. I want to see you in all your light and all your darkness.

William Styron once wrote a book called "Lie Down in Darkness" about the collapse of a southern family, and I felt the story so strongly that I still flinch at the title. I read it at both the wrong and the right time. It pushed me, and in my pushing back I realized that the light isn't always enough. Sometimes we lie down in our darkness, fold it all around, and when we let go of our grasping we find who we are.

So, I made breakfast burritos together with a group of people who can see me, and now it is integrated into our work rituals. It was pivotal life moment.

Work is community.

Work is healing.


Hygge can come where we are. The Danes experience long bouts of darkness during winter season, but hygge does not fight or ignore; it folds into the darkness and sees what is there. 

Hygge at work is essential. For us, we eat breakfast burritos and talk about our weekend plans preceding our discussions of student progress. The potluck softens our disagreements, allowing us space to breathe, to reframe and understand. We could have faculty meetings without the food, but the shared ritual reminds me of our common goal in these meetings. 

Workplace culture becomes personal culture. 

Hygge was born for us in the winter, when we missed the light during the day and found ourselves grasping, living in stress, waiting for a time in the future instead of appreciating what is here and now. 

It started with a bowl of soup and became connection.