As the days grow shorter and I create my new home I just moved into, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Danish phenomenon known as hygge. I’ve been reading a book – The Book of Hygge – The Danish Art of Contentment, Comfort and Connection by Louisa Thomsen Brits for inspiration and ideas as I consider how I now wish to live.
Hygge (pronounced hyoo·guh) is a sense of familiarity, attention, shelter, simplicity, wellbeing, ritual, and belonging.
From The Book of Hygge –
Danes learn how to hygge in early childhood. Although it’s a skill that is never overtly taught, their lives are infused with it. Learning the language of hygge is like a game played in the playground. None of the rules have been clearly explained, but each child simply joins in and absorbs the rhythm of the game as they play.
That is what makes hygge interesting to define. You know it when you feel it. Hygge is a defining characteristic of Danish culture and “a practical way of creating a sanctuary in the middle of very real life,” according to author Brits.
And don’t we all need more sanctuary during life amid the pandemic, our civic atmosphere, and the constraints on travel and our lives?
For me, especially now, hygge is a sense of attention. How can we attend to our homes, our comfort, our friendships?
1 | Familiarity
One aspect of hygge is a sense of familiarity. By creating traditions and rituals that we enjoy regularly, we can cultivate a sense of wellbeing through our routines. We can also evoke memories of our childhood by preparing our family recipes. The aroma of the dishes or baked goods can bring us comfort and warmth. I enjoy coffee occasionally when I want to remember my mother, so coffee is often an element of my hygge.
2 | Attention
Slowing down and paying attention is another crucial element of creating hygge in your own life. As a yoga therapist, this brings to mind mindfulness (pardon the pun!). When we are fully present, time can expand. And we can notice and perceive all the good that is already in our lives and that we often take for granted. This state of contentment with what we have dissipates any sense of longing or wishing our lives were otherwise. By slowing down and paying attention, we see better and the best.
3 | Shelter
Candles and fire are most often the first recommendations when trying to bring hygge home. Danes have only seven hours of light during the day from November to February, so they will light a candle on their breakfast table. With darkness starting at 4 pm, many will light a fire to gather around at night. But hygge also encompasses a sense of spaciousness and openness in the design of our home. A hygge home is well and thoughtfully appointed. We also bring natural elements indoors – perhaps a branch of a birch tree, a bouquet of seasonal flowers, a flat stone collected from a river.
4 | Simplicity
Hygge promotes simplicity not only in your environment but also in your thoughts. Don’t overthink or overcomplicate things. Do not discriminate against the future or recriminate about the past. Be present in your thoughts. Also, to bring hygge into our everyday life, we appreciate simple things – how we set a table, the feel of a blanket, the turn of a phrase in a book. When we have simplicity in our lives, we can more easily accomplish the tasks of daily living. Some eat the same breakfast every day or wear the same clothes every day to enjoy a type of uniform. Simplicity helps reduce decision fatigue. Ease is an integral part of hygge.
5 | Wellbeing
In Denmark, biking is a way of life. After a snowfall, the bike lanes are the first to be cleared. Aside from regular movement to support health, Danes spend time outside every day. No matter how cold, Danes will go for a walk, even if that means bringing a thermos of tea and a blanket to sit on a park bench for a visit with a friend. Regular rest, and even cozy Sunday afternoon naps, are a part of hygge at home.
6 | Crafts
Creating something with your hands is also a central part of hygge. Not only do home crafts help us slow downtime, they also allow us to feel productive. You can easily and quickly mark your progress and feel a sense of accomplishment. Such activities could include knitting, crocheting, needle pointing, gardening, origami – whatever brings you pleasure and centers you! Any do-it-yourself activity is essentially part of the hygge way of life. During the pandemic, such crafts have exploded in popularity. That immediate sense of satisfaction and sense of control are key reasons why.
7 | Belonging
Hygee is also a time for community and gathering those people in your life that ground you, make you laugh, and love you. Nothing is more essential to our wellbeing than our connection to each other. It can be easy during the dark winter months, especially when under lockdown orders, to isolate ourselves. Hygge requires us to make an effort – beyond texting – to connect to each other. Phone calls, and zoom calls, and Facetime calls are better than nothing. If you live alone, try creating a pod of people where you agree only to see one another. Keep it small and then actually spend time together. The connective tissue of mutuality, warmth, and enthusiasm is priceless.
If a stay-to-play at an area hotel feels like too much, try our at-home travel tools! Of course, we can’t wait to share with you the all-new City Escape to Copenhagen which will help you create your hygge!
Additional Resources ::
The Book of Hygge – The Danish Art of Contentment, Comfort, and Connection by Louisa Thomsen Brits
Sensual Home by Ilse Crawford
This is Home: The Art of Simple Living by Natalie Walton
The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking (CEO of The Happiness Research Institute, Copenhagen)
How to Hygge: The Nordic Secrets to a Happy Life by chef and author Signe Johansen
And check out our post, International Dramas That’ll Help You Escape, for more on a terrific drama set in Denmark, Borgen (on Netflix). I watched it years ago when public television broadcast the series, and Netflix picked it up and is producing more seasons because it is that good!