death by hygge

You Are Not Safe Inside Your Cozy Hygge Palace

Too much of a good thing. Photo: picture alliance via Getty Image

One day, I will die, and perhaps because this inevitable human fact comes for us all, I have not spent much time ruminating on how I might most like to make my exit. As such, I had not considered death by hygge; indeed, I was not aware it was an option. According to researchers at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, though, it is eminently possible that the six to eight candles I’m currently burning to enhance my home office ambiance just might kill me. How festive.

For reference, “hygge” is the Danish practice of making a room as cozy as possible, primarily through the addition of an irresponsible number of open flames. As The Guardian reports, researchers suspect that this unbridled fire love might be worse than inhaling diesel exhaust, in terms of respiratory damage. In lab mice, exposure to burning candles translated to inflammation and toxicity in the lungs, arteriosclerosis, and chromosomal aging in the lungs and spleen.

Without much preexisting research, lead author Professor Peter Møller told The Guardian, “We don’t” — we can’t! — “really understand why this is, there must be something special to these candlelight combustion particles.” Professor Lars Gunnarsen, a member of the Danish Health Authority, pointed out that “Danes burn more candles than anywhere else in the world, and we have a shorter life expectancy compared to other European countries.” Coincidence? No, candle pollution. And maybe also the fact that Danes smoke and drink more than any of their Nordic counterparts.

Danish health experts have been after hygge for years, emphasizing that the happiness imparted by the annual 13-plus pounds of candle wax Denmark melt per capita may not be worth the associated risks. Further, a room illuminated as if by a thousand tiny suns also raises house fire concerns, especially in combination with the cigarettes and the lusty glögg swilling.

“Hygge is a wonderful thing,” a Danish emergency management agent named Mads Dalgaard warned The Guardian, “But beware of candles.”

All of these strike me as fair and valid points, and I would never encourage you toward habits known to be detrimental to your health. But personally, I am thinking that the gradual erosion of my innards by years and years spent blanketed under warm, soothing scents seems a lot more pleasant than other, more likely ends I might meet. Given the choice between any number of fatal disasters wrought by unchecked climate change, for example — wildfires, plagues, flooding, water wars — and candle-induced maladies, I would choose death by hygge every time. Just wrap me in my sheepskin and set the salt lamps blazing.

Coziness Could Kill You