Hygge – changing the story of the dark and cold
Hygge. It’s everywhere! There are books on how to hygge, you can take courses in studying hygge, the shops are selling hygge – there’s no escaping it, hygge (pronounced heu-gah) has hit the UK mainstream.
I first learned of hygge several years ago when my husband was working for a Danish company. He would work in their Copenhagen office every few weeks and brought home the concept of hygge to me.
While I was in Copenhagen, accompanying my husband on one of his trips, I chatted with a Danish friend of his about how hygge has hit the big time in Britain. He was a smidge mystified by our fascination and plain horrified at the thought of buying hygge as special candles, blankets or cushions (he actually slapped his hand against his head when I told him about store promotions!).
He told me how the Danish don’t think of it as a thing, it’s their way of life, it’s just what they do. That’s why it’s so hard to sum up hygge in a few words. It isn’t just cosiness and candles and warm blankets and hot chocolate. It’s getting together with your friends and family, it’s sharing laughter and conversation, it’s staying in and creating an intimate, relaxed environment, it’s cooking and eating together, it’s a feeling of connection and community, it’s mindfulness, savouring and gratitude. You can hygge on your own but with two or three other people it’s even better.
This sound familiar right? You’ve had a Sunday afternoon where it’s been chucking it down outside so you’ve curled up on the couch with a good book or magazine and a pot of tea and relished being in the warm and dry. Or an evening where it’s pitch black and blowing a gale outside so you’ve ditched the plan for a night out and invited everyone round to yours for a night in of food and fun.
Subtle lighting creates a cosy atmosphere but candles don’t make or break hygge. Turn down the dimmer switch or use a corner lamp for low level lighting. You don’t need a particular blanket to snuggle under, just one that’s warm and soft on your skin. If what you love to do with your family and friends at home is play board games, have a movie marathon or build a Lego village, do it! Whatever quality, enjoyable time together looks like for you is right for you.
What I think is key about hygge is that it changes the story of cold, dark, wet winters. It shines a more positive light on what we often see as a miserable time that we wish would hurry by (especially once Christmas is over). Instead of fighting against the season the Danes embrace it, they turn it into a reason to stay in, spend time together, cook and eat good food. They know how they can enjoy life even when it’s light for only a few hours a day and the temperature rarely rises above freezing. They know what’s important to their wellbeing, what they can do to feel good, and how to approach it mentally.
So why should we pay attention to hygge? Well, Denmark is reported over and over again as being the happiest country to live in. The World Happiness Report puts Denmark in first place and the UK 23rd out of 157 countries examined. In the OECD Better Life Index Danes give themselves a mark of 7.5 out of 10 for their general life satisfaction while the UK score themselves 6.5. Of course there are other things at play here besides hygge but when a nation’s people are among the happiest in the world it’s worth seeing what we can learn from them.
Thinking about bringing a little hygge into your life could help you deal with the cold and dark months better. I used to dread winter and hate the gloomy grey days but learning about hygge, and changing my mindset, has helped me embrace it. I no longer fight the weather and wish time away (although Spring is my favourite season). The time will pass anyway so I choose to embrace the concept of hygge and make my peace with the darkness. It’s not a cure for SAD (season affective disorder) but it could help alleviate the symptoms.
So rather than thinking about hygge as a trend or something you have to buy or work at, consider how you can introduce hygge into your everyday life to increase your enjoyment and improve your wellbeing. What story have you been telling yourself about the changing season, the shorter days, the dropping temperatures? How can you change that story into a more uplifting one? What can you do to notice and savour the happy moments and experiences on your own and with family and friends?
PS There are some brilliant hygge words if you want to broaden your vocab:
Hyggelig is hygge-like – you can have a hyggelig time and a room can be very hyggelig
Hyggekrog is a corner in your home where you can hyggelig
Hyggestund is a moment of hygge
Hyggebukser is a pair of trousers that are super comfy to wear around the house but you’ve never been seen outside in them – we’ve all got some of those!