Can you remember the last time you felt content and at ease with life?
Maybe you woke up with no particular plans in mind. Made yourself a cup of tea or coffee and sipped from it slowly as you waited for your body to wake up calmly on its own. Perhaps you ventured outdoors and enjoyed a long, peaceful stroll through nature as you soaked in all the beauty surrounding you. Or, you were huddled around a fireplace with friends or family laughing and reminiscing about happy memories.
Without even knowing it, you were practicing something called Hygge.
But wait, what is Hygge (and how do you even pronounce it)?
Pronounced ‘Hoog-ah’, it's a way-of-life that’s been honored by the Danish for years and is something akin to mindfulness. Rather unsurprising, considering Denmark is consistently voted one of the world’s happiest countries. The concept was also a relatively well-kept secret until just a few years ago.
Sometime around 2016, Hygge became the Scandinavian export that would take the world by storm. Nordic-themed coffee shops cropped up on every street corner. High-street retailers tried to bottle its essence with elegant candles, sheepskin cushions and long wooden tables. And, we all bought woolly socks (yes, lots and lots of socks). Indeed, the pace at which Hygge became commercially embraced around the globe all started to feel rather, well...un-hygge.
Mass adoption aside, at the end of the day, Hygge is still, in its purest form, an important and cherished part of Danish culture. More profoundly, it’s all about embracing the happiness life has to offer. And, you don’t necessarily need an expensive new candle or cashmere throw to do so. Meik Wiking author of The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets To Happy Living would concur; the real ingredients of hygge are presence, relaxation, indulgence, and togetherness.
Whether you’re loving the grams of chic woolen socks and scented candles or are a little apprehensive about these, there are still lots of ways to embrace and appreciate Hygge in your day-to-day life. Here’s how.
But first, a little Hygge history
Hygge found its way into Danish literature sometime around the 19th century (though it’s thought that its etymological roots stem much farther back). It’s believed to have descended from Hugr, an Old Norse word for ‘mood.’ This later evolved to hug meaning ‘mind, soul, and consciousness.’ Combined with the term hygga (‘to comfort’), this led to the birth of Hygge. At this time, Hygge was primarily used to describe ‘home’ or a cozy environment that provided shelter or refuge from the raging outside elements. This could be taken to mean the harsh weather (literally) or simply the uncertainty posed by the outside world
From there, Hygge would evolve into a concept that encompassed not just the home but also how those who practiced it felt about life. Similar ideas emerged in Germany, such as gemutlichkleit, promoting friendliness and good cheer, as well as gezelligheid in the Netherlands, characterized by jolliness and conviviality.
While Hygge has been referred to as a ‘middle-class concept,’ what this really boils down to is adopting an attitude that is tidy and comforting, rather than pretentious and showy. It also refers to the sense of community, equality, and informality you feel when spending time with people you are closest to and feel most connected.
So, what exactly is Hygge?
There is no direct translation for this word in English or any other language. In fact, the consensus in Denmark is that Hygge is more of a feeling rather than an idea or concept. This makes Hygge slightly tricky to quantify.
Of course, you could light some candles, throw on a pair of woolly socks, and curl up to read for hours, and this would immediately be considered very Hygge. What really counts, though, is whether it made you happy and helped you to let go of life’s overwhelm and stress.
The truth is that our modern-day lives are busy and hectic. It’s often a challenge to find pockets of time when we can truly slow down and appreciate what we have. Finding moments of pause that we can savor together (even just a little bit) is already a great way of letting a little Hygge sink into our lives.
So, here are 6 small ways you can enjoy a little slice of Scandinavian Hygge…
Enjoy the simple things in life...
Maybe it’s when you first wake up with your coffee. Or, when you put the laundry in for a spin as you settle down to read a few pages of a scrummy book over the weekend. Or, when you meet an old friend for lunch between work. In those moments, when time seems to stretch out just that little longer, you can really make the most of Hygge. Just recognizing and finding happiness in these things, as small and inconsequential as they might seem, is a way of experiencing more peace and awareness in life. And, if you feel you want more of this feeling, there’s nothing stopping you from creating more of these moments.
For a traditional experience of Hygge, try things like having dinner by candlelight with your loved one or simmering a stew while you relax and play board games with your family.
But, don’t be scared to indulge...
Although Hygge is all about honoring the simplicities of life, it’s also about indulging. While the world currently urges us to shape up with healthy diets, intense workouts, and minimalism, Hygge encourages us to recall the pure bliss and enjoyment of life, albeit in a mindful way. Whether that’s taking time to bake a hearty cake, cook a beautiful stew, or slowly brew some coffee, Hygge is all about eating and enjoying good food that makes you feel happy. So maybe try swapping your avocado toast for a warm bowl of porridge in the morning or baking some bread the next time your friends are over.
Find time to slow down and re-connect…
At its essence, Hygge is about living in and appreciating the moment. It’s about finding time to slow down, disconnect, and open our senses to the incredible world around us. Disconnecting from technology, taking a stroll in nature, or spending time with a pet, all offer a way of re-grounding ourselves in the present, letting go of the past, or ignoring worries about the future. Knowing that what we have right here and now is a gift.
Make your home peaceful and comforting...
For the Danes, home is not only where the heart is but also where the Hygge is. The home is a sanctuary of comfort and peace where you can kick back and enjoy a warm cup of tea after a long day’s work. It’s all about the feel and the atmosphere over the aesthetics. One of the best ways to make your home feel more Hyggelig (or hygge-like) is with candles - lots and lots of them. Of course, if you’re not partial to candles, simply opting for lower, softer lighting (try dimming a bulb with a nice shade) can have similar effects. Another way to feel cozier is to always have something soft and warm nearby to wrap up in like a chunky knitted blanket or snug throw. You can even create your own ‘hyggekrog,’ your own personal nook, where you can unwind by reading or simply relaxing with a warm drink.
Share joy and love with those you love…
Peel away the layers of coziness and Hygge really is about togetherness at its core. It promotes spending time with people in small, intimate settings, and sharing special moments with close friends and family that you trust and feel comfortable around. Cooking dinner for old friends, hosting a weekend roast for the family, or taking a nature walk with your spouse and children are some of the ways you can experience this togetherness. The more love and compassion you can share with others, the more happiness you’ll experience.
So, there you have it. Now you know how to live a life more Hygge. Whether you decide to apply a few of these suggestions or to find your own unique ways of distilling feelings of mindfulness and coziness in your life, remember that it’s all about enjoying the experience. And, of course, the more people you can bring together under your Hygge umbrella, the more fun you’ll have with it.