If I have learned anything from the last few years working closely with Danish colleagues it is the true meaning of ‘hygge’. I still can’t say it properly, it’s pronounced ‘hue-guh’…but as it became a popular phenomenon I think sometimes the real meaning of it is lost. Contrary to mainstream social media, it does not just translate to ‘cosy’, although that feeling of cosines is is one aspect of it. So what is hygge and how do we achieve it?
My original post was going to be how to bring hygge into your lifestyle, but I think that would be misleading as it isn’t a lifestyle. You don’t live a certain way each day to achieve it all the time, and it’s not just a case of putting up some fairy lights here and there either. If hygge was everywhere in your life all the time, it wouldn’t feel as good when you experience it.
What is hygge?
A concept strongly connected with the Danish and the Norwegian, hygge is a Danish word that acknowledges an instant feeling in the moment, that could be anywhere, with anyone or nobody, as being charming or special. It is an atmosphere, and a feeling of calm, cosy or contentment through life’s simple pleasures.
It isn’t a case of learning ‘how to’ bring it into your life, but certain things will typically make you feel it, and that could be in multiple areas of your life.
I think the most English comparison I can give is when we say something gives us ‘all the feels’. Or perhaps when you’re drunk happy telling all your friends how much you love them.
Some examples where I’ve felt like that are when Kieran and I were ice skating last December with all our friends in Amsterdam, or when I finally got my birthday drinks with my friends this year and we were all sat huddled round a heater with glasses of wine in Newcastle, or on a Sunday afternoon cuddled under blankets with Arthur, or going to New York and seeing the Rockefeller Tree lights switched on with Kieran. That feeling of contentment in thinking you’re happy, enjoying the moment, with people you care about and there’s nowhere you’d rather be there and then.
Christmas is traditionally known for being the ‘peak season’ of hygge, because this time of year encompasses so much that often relates to hygge. Family, friends, tradition, cosy winter feeling and of course fairy lights. I think those five days we can mix with those closest to us might bring about a feeling of hygge amongst a lot of us. I really can’t wait to walk into my parents house, and I’m sure a lot of people will get it driving home for Christmas.
But it can be anywhere, anytime. You’re just more likely to feel it at Christmas because there are more scenarios where it will happen. Fairy lights are everywhere, and it’s why we get so much enjoyment from seeing people’s lights in their windows or doorways.
Despite it being Danish, and all my time spent in Copenhagen the last few years, I would say I’ve seen instances where it would occur rather than felt it myself. The Danes naturally do hygge very well, and you can see it in their cosy cafes, bars, style, and through their tiny windows into the Scandi decorated apartments.
For example the bars along Nyhavn at Christmas are very festive, and Tivoli was unbelievable, probably the most festive place I’ve ever been. But I spent a lot of work travel like this alone, and so as much as it made me feel Christmassy and I could recognise it as a hygge atmosphere, it made me want to get home to Kieran and my family more, so I wasn’t truly content in the moment.
How & Where to Get That Hygge Feeling
The really easy answer to this would be in Denmark, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. This is also a bit misleading as it’s not something really you can go chasing, it should come to you spontaneously, but I suppose all of us know what is going to make us happy or relaxed. It’s a bit like when you know you need a self care day or time to switch off, and you do specific things to get that feeling – like a bubble bath with a glass of wine and the candles lit, or a weekend afternoon nap.
But it’s a step further with true hygge moments that happen unexpectedly.
Everyone is different so these suggestions might not apply to everyone, but hopefully you get the idea. Here’s some of the areas of hygge you can experience.
A Hygge Atmosphere
Create a cosy and calm environment for yourself, tidy it of any mess, clear any clutter and make it comfortable. This doesn’t have to just be the living room, it could be a reading nook, an outside space – the Danish do little courtyards and cosy restaurant interiors very well.
Or it could be a cosy corner, your bedroom or even the bathroom. Put your favourite music to chill out to on, if you can put a fire on. If you haven’t got a real fire Sky Go have some great festive scenes you can put on the TV to make it look like you do.
Light scented candles, or spray scented room spray. In the kitchen you could brew fresh coffee for that incredible smell in the morning, or make mulled cider or wine in the afternoon for that unmistakeable festive smell. The Nordic name for it is Gløgg.
Shelter & Safety
Put yourself in a place where you feel safe. Lock the doors, draw the curtains, and remove anything that makes you unhappy from your surroundings. It’s the little things like getting into clean bedsheets, or putting a hot water bottle in bed before you get in. Warm your towels on the rail before you get out the bath.
Enjoy being warm and toasty inside when its raining outside.
Humans are drawn to warmth and light, which is why you get that fuzzy feeling when you’re near to a crackling fire. Candles do the trick as well, dot them about so they’re not concentrated in one place, giving a glow around the room Low light always works better. This is where fairy lights come in too. Twinkly warm lights evoke the same feelings.
Hygge Through Nature
Nature can be used in two ways for hygge, firstly to bring the outside in. Decorate your living space with nature, which is why you see so many Scandinavian places with lots of greenery. Embrace the seasons by decorate accordingly, so in winter use pine cones, berries, dried oranges and holly. In the spring and summer make sure you have fresh seasonal flowers, and in Autumn of course go for the pumpkins.
It may be cliche, you may be accused of doing it for the gram, but there is a reason people gravitate to seasonal nature and trying to see the positives even in your least favourite season should improve your mood and feelings. Go for a walk on a frosty morning, get outside to see the sun rise or set, walk on the beach, go wild swimming, trudging through the snow. If you really hate the weather outside, like the wind – who likes the wind?
Or if it’s a miserable grey day then enjoy the feeling of being inside and sheltered from it.
Comfort & Clothing
This one reminds me of two things, the feeling when you’ve been in high heels all night and get to take them off, or that saying – ‘bra off, hair up, sweats on’. Fashion goes out the window, it’s when you’re at home and can put your leggings or sweat pants on, some thick fluffy socks, soft pyjamas and an oversized sweater.
If you’re outside in the freezing cold it’s wearing your woolly hat, scarf and gloves to keep warm, then coming back inside with rosy cheeks.
And not just clothing, getting wrapped up in blankets, propped up by comfy cushions or pillows, and genuinely relaxing every muscle.
I think this will be a big one for so many people this Christmas, when you finally get to be with loved ones. Whether you’ve not seen someone for ages, or you’re just enjoying the moment with your nearest and dearest. You cut any drama and negativity out for a period of time and just enjoy being with people. You could invite friends over, arrange a FaceTime or call with someone, or plan a date night.
It could also be that feeling of giving someone a gift they absolutely love this Christmas, or seeing your kids excited on Christmas morning. Sitting down for dinner and pulling crackers, or that first pig in a blanket.
When you allow yourself to give in to cravings or enjoy your favourite meal, snack or treat. It’s not about being excessive or greed, but just appreciating really good food. The best example I can think of is when you get warm bread and the butter is melting on top. Freshly baked goods that you’ve made yourself and share with people, winter home made soup or that indulgent bar of galaxy.
Warm drinks like hot chocolate, mulled cider or a bloody good cup of tea when you need it most.
Copenhagen do restaurants like nowhere else I’ve experienced. In so many of them you feel like you’re in someone’s home they are very cosy especially in winter, and in the summer they fully make the most of sitting outside in courtyards or on terraces. Think wood fired pizza ovens and hot chocolate and donut balls in winter.
When you use the time to yourself or with those close to you to do something you enjoy. You could watch a film, read a book in a nook, play a board game, or enjoy a nap in silence.
In a world where everything is online especially this year, try and allocate time to be in the moment of whatever you’re doing. Put your phone down and switch off, enjoy the company of people you’re with and see it as ‘we’ not ‘I’. Embrace the season we’re in rather than wishing it away, and try to see the cup half full. We not I or me.
I think this is the hardest one of all, as it is all too easy to get caught up in fast paced life, rushing about, keeping one eye on the to do list and focusing on either the past or the future.
That sums it up really, the very point of hygge is being ok in the present moment. Allowing yourself to enjoy and be content with your here and now, however simple that is and even if you have to do a bit of work to achieve it by doing some of the things I’ve mentioned. God knows we could all do with a helping hand this year, so although hygge is really about getting that feeling when you least expect it, I don’t think the Danes will mind if we cheat a bit in getting there.
This year more than any year we’ve all really had to look at ourselves and consciously make decisions on things that will help us to get through it. I know not to watch the news after a certain time of the day or I won’t sleep well, I know when I need a day on the sofa, or when I’ve watched too much Netflix and need to get outside.
I know the people to speak to when I need a pick me up and who to avoid. I’ve even cut people out entirely who brought absolutely nothing but negativity into my life. I’ve seen people have the overwhelming need to get to the beach and see the sea, or meet up with friends for a drink when we can.
If you want to read more about hygge then this book was a bestseller a couple of years ago when it took off here. I’ve not read it as all I know is from my Danish and Norwegian friends and I quite like that that is the case. In keeping with the theme most photos in this post are from my trips to Copenhagen.
Next time you’re sat appreciating what and who you have, or something you’re doing then you’ll know that’s hygge. It’s just a nice fleeting feeling to have, and I hope your Christmas this year is filled with hygge moments.
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