Finding Inner Peace While You’re Underground
The cold months have descended and the holiday season is here, so it’s time to seek out hygge — the Danish term for winter refuge and spiritual warmth that enjoyed a moment of international trendiness around 2016. But what if you’re a New Yorker and spend two hours a day on the subway? You’re in luck, as a subway ride is actually the perfect activity to get yourself into that congenial holiday mood. A train, after all, is basically a large sled that travels underground, in the dark.
But can a commute — or any stressful holiday travel — really be cozy? You need only to modify your approach.
Hygge is all about getting comfy and secure, sheltered away from others who might ask you how to pronounce hygge. (It’s “HOO-guh,” I’ve learned, though I’m partial to the incorrect but popular “higgy.”) “The Book of Hygge” calls the concept “a practical way of creating sanctuary in the middle of very real life” — the ideal practice for finding inner comfort amid the very real life of the New York subway. A foundational element of hygge is getting pleasantly bundled, for example, so start by layering up. And not just in sweaters, scarves, kerchief and cap — a cozy N95 mask, or three, can be the perfect snug complement to your contemporary winter wardrobe.
The hyggelig mood also relies on the right food and drink: something rich, sensuous and spice-mulled. So bring a thermos full of eggnog to sip while you are inevitably seduced by the hypnotic overhead cooking videos the M.T.A. now plays on station screens.
In the pursuit of hygge, the average Danish citizen reportedly burns 13 pounds of candle wax per year. Unfortunately, you can’t burn your own candles on the subway, since you probably shouldn’t add to the pandemic’s 40 percent increase in subway fires. For ambience, rely instead on the fact that impromptu caroling is not unheard-of on New York subways. At the very least, you might catch “Symphonie Fantastique” or Pop Smoke leaking from your neighbor’s iPhone.
With the right attitude and accessories, you can turn run-of-the-mill travel tedium into a cocoon of hygge mindfulness. Just remember that, eventually, the ride will end. But for now, you are being held momentarily by the train’s dispatcher’s warm embrace.