It is at this time of year when the cheery Christmas lights have been packed away, yet the days are still likely to be dank, grey and cold for the foreseeable future, and having enjoyed plentiful tasty, comforting food over the festive season, we are now made to feel guilty for craving anything without kale in it when what we really need to get through this cold season is a pile of warm toasted crumpets, dripping with butter, and a large steaming mug of milky coffee. This is the juxtaposition we call January in the UK and in my opinion, there is only one way to survive it – it’s time to embrace the Danish practice of ‘hygge’!
If this isn’t a term you are familiar with, you are probably not alone, however it is a concept that is slowly making its way across the North Sea. In Denmark, the idea of hygge (pronounced ‘hyoo-ga’) is certainly not new and very probably the reason why our fellow Danes are amongst the happiest people in the world! A college in the UK has even started teaching students the art of Danish hygge. So, with the knowledge that the weather can affect our mood and with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affecting around one in 15 people in the UK during the winter months, maybe it’s time we adopted hygge and the positive health benefits thought to go with it?
So what exactly is hygge and why should we take a lesson from the Danes in embracing it? Well, roughly translated as ‘cosiness’ or ‘the art of creating intimacy’ (there is no literal translation into English), the term ‘hygge’ came into the Danish language in the early 18th century and has been an incredibly important part of Danish culture ever since. We might think our winters here in the UK and Ireland are grey, long and miserable, however in Denmark, they have to face shortened hours of sunlight and grey, laden skies from October right through till March, with temperatures consistently dipping below freezing and little chance of a glimpse of late Autumn sunshine or early Spring freshness that we might enjoy here. However, instead of becoming depressed at the weather and complaining about the cold, the Danes combat the darkness of winter with their one powerful weapon: hygge. They make their homes cosy with the warm glow of candlelight (Danes light more candles per head than any other European nation, according to the European Candle Association), they invite friends and family over to sit around the table and share good food and stimulating conversation, they appreciate the little comforts in life such as sitting by the fire with a mug of fresh coffee and a woollen blanket draped over their shoulders… these things are all hygge and each in their own way help to illuminate the soul in the depths of winter. Above all, hygge is about experiences rather than possessions, it is about gratitude, it is about happiness, and with a few changes to your life, you can experience the benefits of it too!
Image: Little Birdie
You might even be practising hygge without even realising it – for example, I meet with a group of girlfriends every Friday morning and it’s one of the highlights of my week! We share our homes, freshly brewed coffee, good food (often home-baked – very hygge!), conversation and most crucially, friendship and support. I defy anyone to suggest this is not good for the soul. Similarly, maybe you run yourself a hot bath on a winter’s night and just enjoy the simple pleasure of a good long soak – this is also very typically hygge. It is about being in the moment and creating a cosy, familial atmosphere. Although the high season of hygge is in winter, it can be experienced in the summer months, too. Having a barbecue with friends or a picnic on the beach are both very hygge-like activities that make our lives less humdrum and more special in your own unique way.
So now that you have a better idea of what hygge is all about, how can we incorporate more of this unique way of living into our home and daily life? You only have to look to well known Scandinavian brands for signs of hygge in their products and concepts. A wander around your local Ikea store will, unbeknownst to you, be promoting the benefits of a hygge lifestyle to you. Their carefully designed room sets will conjure up cosy images of families seated around a big dining table, lots of tealights dotted along its length and plates of warm, home-baked food in plentiful supply, a bedroom sanctuary anyone would want to retire to on a cold winter’s night with piles of cushions and knitted blankets, soft pools of light created by low level lamps and a bed stand piled high with good books and, of course, a steaming mug of hot chocolate to enjoy as a bedtime treat. UK brands are beginning to promote the hygge way, too: Hush homewear actively encourages living life the hygge way; in fact its founder Mandy Watkins started the Hush concept 12 years ago as an embodiment of hygge and has remained true to this with everything that Hush symbolises today – time with friends, cosy evenings in, candlelight, a glass of wine, embracing life’s little pleasures.
There are many simple yet effective ways in which you can make your home more hygge. Here are some ideas to get you started and I can assure you, you’ll begin to feel the glowing benefits immediately!
This is the simplest way to bring hygge into your home, whether it’s at the dining table in winter or out on the patio of a summer’s evening. Achieving hygge is not about being extravagant, rather it is about being grateful for the little things that make you feel, well… hygge! I love these little ceramic tealight houses (buy here) along my mantelpiece even in the weeks after Christmas.
This trio of simple candles and a sheepskin throw really cosy up an otherwise cool white space.
Image: Hannah in the House
Make a simple supper with friends an intimate experience with plenty of candlelight and good food. It certainly doesn’t have to be perfect so make the conversation and general ambience take centre stage.
Image: The Kitchn
Pile up some blankets of varying weights and textures for that hygge feeling of cosiness and tranquility. This can be in the bedroom or in a basket by the living room sofa for you or your guests to snuggle into! Cushions can also up the cosy factor, as can tactile textiles such as sheepskin.
Image: Nordic House
Create Cosy Nooks in the Home
Whether it’s a quiet moment by the fire on a wild winter’s night or reading a good book on a window seat overlooking the garden, we all have favourite spots in our home that we love to spend time in. This is the essence of hygge happiness!
Image: The Sweet Simple Life
Image: Apartment Therapy
Make your Bedroom a Sanctuary
Make your bedroom somewhere you love to retire to at the end of a long day or relax in on a lazy Sunday morning with the newspapers and a coffee.
A simple posy of flowers on your night stand can give you hygge at any time of year.
I hope you can find ways to embrace the hygge way and in doing so, learn to actually enjoy and make the most of our time indoors during these winter months. I really believe it is a positive way of thinking and being that we can all reap huge benefits from, both in terms of our mental and physiological well-being. With regard to tangibly bringing hygge into your home, there are many products out there which will enhance your home’s appeal throughout the winter months and beyond – even on a rainy summer afternoon we need somewhere to escape to with a good book!
For now, though, enjoy some ‘hygge’ time!