Cozy Up to Danish Hygge
The simple art of feeling content, happy, and comfy
Long before I heard of the Danish word hygge (pronounced almost like “hyuu-guh”), and before hygge became a global trend, I was longing for life pleasures that encouraged a sense of contentment and well-being. Nothing on a grand scale, mind you—just the little things that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Slipping on a pair of cloud-soft aloe-infused socks on a cool evening, lighting a candle in the kitchen window on a cloudy morning, or adorning my breakfast nook with a simple vase of wildflowers. And that pot of Provençal stew slowly braising in the oven on a winter’s day, with the anticipation of supper near a crackling fire—perfection. Little did I know I was seeking hygge.
The Good Life, Hygge Style
So, what exactly is the definition of hygge? There’s no equivalent English word, although coziness comes close. Hygge is about finding simple things that bring comfort and contentment to your body and soul, and then savoring those moments. Take candlelight—something just about everyone agrees is super hygge. Lighting a wick until you have a flame isn’t hygge in and of itself. Candles become hygge when you effortlessly revel in their comfy glowing light. You feel this from within, and it’s deeply soothing. Now that’s hygge!
Is hygge a kind of mindfulness, as well—another buzzword that has captured our attention lately? While hygge and mindfulness are not necessarily mutually exclusive, I think “presence” is more appropriate than “mindfulness.” Mindful means being attentive and aware, but it can also mean being careful. It doesn’t seem that hygge involves cognizant carefulness. Instead, it’s the sheer simplicity of experiencing coziness, and then wrapping yourself in that feeling without forcing it.
Perhaps it’s easier to describe what hygge does not entail—materialism, gluttony, envy, and excess. Having an enormous house, driving the fastest car on the block, or carrying the latest designer handbag (admittedly, one of my indulgences) aren’t hygge. It isn’t about one-upping your neighbors or hanging out online either, because in a hygge world, direct social interaction, personal warmth, and a genuine nature are cherished.
Hygge is derived from a sixteenth-century Norwegian term, hugga, meaning “to comfort” or “to console.” Considered the likely origin of the English word “hug,” hygge encompasses feelings of relaxation, modest indulgence, gratitude, well-being, and coziness.
Now you have a better understanding of what hygge is, but what’s the big deal about living a hygge life? Sure, we all like to feel cozy, but is there more to it? An answer may lie with the Danes. They have been embracing the hygge lifestyle for ages, to the point that it has become part of their national character. And it seems to contribute to their overall happiness factor. According to the United Nations World Happiness Report, Denmark is considered the happiest country in the world. This is a bit surprising when you think about it. High taxes and long, cold winters with brief periods of daylight aren’t necessarily synonymous with happiness, in my opinion. And yet, the Danish people live contentedly practicing their hygge philosophy.
More than Candles, Homemade Cinnamon Rolls, and Cozy Decor
Sure, these things can contribute to “hygge-ness,” but hygge life will vary among us as individuals. For example, I may love cookies just out of the oven with gooey chocolate chunks whereas you may prefer sipping spring cherry green tea from a decorative porcelain tea cup or a mug your son gave you (but it’s okay to want a warm cookie to go with it!).
Along with a pervasive enjoyment of cozy things, hygge is also about convivial togetherness. A casual dinner with close friends without lots of fuss and plenty of friendly, easy-going interaction is hygge. A personal favorite hygge togetherness moment for me is afternoon tea with my husband—our version of a low-key high tea. We sit in upholstered chairs with a view of the garden and drink fragrant tea steeped in hand-stitched silk tea bags while mired in conversation that meanders and flows from topic to topic. Our tea times together foster a deeper connection between us.
In his Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living, Meik Wiking outlines practical ways to bring hygge into your life. One of his suggestions: create a self-care emergency kit that will help you wind down and relax at the end of a rough day. Wiking recommends making a kit that contains comforting things, such as quality chocolate, herbal tea, a soft blanket, a page-turner, a notebook and pen, and a photo album.
Streamline and personalize your space. It’s difficult to relax in spaces that are overwhelming. Declutter, remove extra things that don’t bring you joy, and then surround yourself with objects that tell a story—perhaps a framed picture of you and a loved one or your pet, or a meaningful item picked up during your travels.
Celebrating the High Hygge Season
Naturally, the holiday season is all about hygge. Just the thought of hot cider with a cinnamon stick and holiday music playing in the background brings a cozy feeling. Sharing special moments and traditions with friends and family and adding homemade gifts to your gift exchange—also hygge. Making a gift is satisfying (and hygge) for both for you and the recipient, and it doesn’t need to be ultra time-consuming. Create a terrarium or paint a wooden bird house you picked up at the hobby store. Place some colored glass beads in the bottom of Mason jar, put a tea candle on the level beads, tie a ribbon around the opening of the jar, and voila, you have a candle holder that’s great for a deck or a kitchen table.
Comfort food and evoking taste memories of happy times in the past are hygge, too. If it’s not much fuss, make your grandmother’s fudge, your father’s special egg nog, or aunt Sarah’s free-form plum tart.
Getting Hygge with the Neighbors
Neighborliness can be hygge. For instance, my neighbor and I look forward to sharing what has become an annual tradition. It began when he hung a finch feeder that’s visible from our front doors. I contribute thistle seeds, as does he, to keep the “finch action” going throughout the season. My initial donation was planting moon flowers which reseed each year in the same area as the bird feeder. We rejoice when the seedlings sprout, water the plants and watch them grow, then celebrate when their giant white blossoms unfurl as dusk draws near. (You might find us out there doing a goofy impromptu moon dance some evening!) All this warms our hearts and nurtures a neighborly spirit. Definitely hygge.
Practice gratitude. Rejoice in a beautiful day by going on a bike ride or taking a walk. Appreciate the bounty of goodness that comes from our local farms. Browse through a farmers market and pick up some fresh produce for you and your family to enjoy.
Just thinking about these things makes me “hygge happy.” How about you?
Hygge may be a trend right now, but it should have staying power because it’s a “good thing.” In today’s world that often seems consumed with hatred, violence, and vitriol, living the hygge life helps us appreciate the sheer art of living and perhaps, the essence of life itself.
By Annette Brooks