Gemutlichkeit is one of my favorite words.
a German-language word used to convey the idea of a state or feeling of warmth, friendliness, and good cheer. Other qualities encompassed by the term include coziness, peace of mind, and a sense of belonging and well-being springing from social acceptance.
Several other cold-weather cultures have similar nouns, used often when describing retreat from winter weather. There’s no true English-language equivalent, but I think we could use a word like this, too. The “blah” of winter’s greyness, along with schedule disruptions caused by snow and icy roads, and winter colds, can challenge even the cheeriest soul.
Yesterday, running with my friend, Angela, we talked about ways to make winter a celebratory time too, not just a cold, dark slog toward spring.
Our talk segued into paying it forward and doing unto others. Returning abandoned shopping carts from random spots in the parking lot. Giving a genuine smile of hello to the people you pass in the grocery store. Bringing an unrequested cup of piping hot chocolate to your stressed teenage daughter. Picking up someone else’s litter. Asking someone in the grocery store if they need help when they look lost or can’t reach something. This kind of thirty second gesture keeps you in the moment, reins you in from just rushing headlong through each day, and creates its own kind of warmth and connection.
(I’m realizing many of my examples involve the grocery store – that universal location teeming with every version of humanity. But if you don’t spend as much time at the grocery as I do, you can find parallels almost anywhere.)
This pay it forward approach spurs an uptick in our own well-being and exemplifies, especially to our kids, how just a little time, thought, and effort on someone else’s behalf can go a long way toward initiating a positive cycle, making a kinder world.
“There you go,” Angela said. “This is what you should write about next.”
I agreed the idea was a good jumping off point but said I didn’t want to be too preachy. If there are teachable moments in the personal experiences I share, I want them to be reader-driven.
“Maybe you would just need to start with something nice someone else did, and go from there,” she said.
Yes! So, I’m going to tell you the story of Angela, her stellar iPhone photography, and the two elderly couples we share the trail with.
For most of our running years (ten plus), we’ve regularly encountered this foursome walking together. They don’t speak much English, but they always nod and smile and say hello. They seem so very content in each other’s company.
Angela always comments on them. Where are they from, why are they here, what is there relationship to each other? We see them regularly enough that when we don’t see for a while, she worries. Then when we do see them again, there is palpable relief.
Several weeks ago, we passed them sitting on a trailside bench, bundled up, quietly taking in the sunshine.
“Oh my gosh, wouldn’t that make such a nice picture,” Angela said.
We slowed down, and she asked if they would like their picture taken. They didn’t seem to understand her. She tried a different approach and asked if one of them had a phone. They all shook their heads no. She pulled out her phone and mimed taking a picture. They all nodded and smiled. Angela stood back and snapped a few shots, then showed them the screen. They smiled some more, said thank you, and we ran on.
What was she going to do with that? I thought.
“Well, I don’t know what I’m going to do with that,” she said. “But I felt like I had to capture it. It’s too bad they didn’t have a phone.”
The next morning, when we met to run again, she told me she’d printed the picture. “I guess I’ll just keep it in my car in case I see them,” she said.
Well, of course we’ve seen them many times since. Each time, Angela says, “Oh – I wish I had that picture with me.”
Then yesterday, smack in the middle of our discussion about feel-good gestures, we saw our famous foursome again, close to the parking lot we were returning to.
“You know what,” Angela said. “I still have that picture in my car. I’m going to grab it when we get back and see if I can catch up with them.”
And she did, and they were so happy to have the photo. And Angela had some extra sunshine in the rest of her day, despite the below freezing temperatures. In this small gesture, she’d found it – gemutlichkeit – the feeling of genuine, in-the-moment connection with others. Even if we don’t have our own word for it, we can still find its essence and share it, which can make winter, and all seasons really, warmer both inside and out.
About our Blogger:
Elizabeth Dougherty is a freelance writer in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Her blog, Plan Q, chronicles real, everyday experiences and viewpoints — funny, stressful, tearful, mundane — and how they all tie together to define our lives. She aims to make her readers laugh, cry, feel, think, and wonder. That’s what writing and reading do for her, and if she can pass on any of that, then all the twists and turns that whip her right past Plans A through P and land her at Plan Q are more than worth it! Visit Plan Q at www.elizabethdoughertyfreelanc ewriting.wordpress.com or connect with her on Facebook.