editor's note

Not long after I came to campus almost six years ago, I heard accounting professor Joe Hoyle — a legendary faculty member at Richmond if ever there was one — telling a group of new employees just how much he loves working at the University of Richmond. Part of it had to do with how well campus helps him entertain his grandkids. Ducks and D-hall are a hard combo to beat. But mostly it was about the unbeatable work environment

This benefit was on my mind as I chatted about Lego with Denmark’s ambassador to the United States outside of Tyler Haynes Commons one evening in November — specifically, how unpleasant it is for parents to step on a piece of it. The Danish company sold more than 75 million pieces of the stuff in 140 countries in 2016, which makes that crunch underfoot a fairly universal experience.

Ambassador Lars Gert Lose, I, and plenty of others were taking part in a candlelit walk celebrating Danish culture. As we ambled our way across campus, we stopped at a dozen pop-up stations highlighting aspects of Danish culture. At one, students performed Hamlet (which is set in Denmark); at another, carolers serenaded us with holiday songs. We ate bits of apple streusel and settled into the Danish concept of hygge, one of those terms that refuses easy translation and, in doing so, offers a window into another way of thinking.

As I came to understand it, hygge is a way of being, the kind of easy comfort you feel among close, longtime friends over drinks with a fire or candles burning nearby. I’m told that Danes use it as shorthand for soft light and comfortable nooks, for warm socks and sweet indulgences that skirt the edge of moderation. It’s a means and an end, a collective cultural response for maintaining well-being during Copenhagen’s long winter nights.

And so I was definitely in a hygge state of mind by the time we got to the sumptuous Danish feast awaiting us in Heilman Dining Center. Hunks of cheese and bread were laid out on tables next to spreads of salmon and I-don’t-even-know-whats. The atmosphere encouraged sampling unfamiliar foods, and D-hall was as crowded as I’ve ever seen it with students doing just that.

This was just one spectacular night celebrating International Education Week by highlighting Danish culture. The day before, a corporate vice president of Novo Nordisk, a Danish pharmaceutical company, talked in the business school about happiness and business in Denmark, whose people are consistently ranked among the world’s happiest. On Monday, we’d donned spectacularly silly Danish-style socks for a walk to a video conference between UR students studying in Denmark and Danish students studying on campus.

They all looked pretty happy, too.