I’ve often said my fireplace is one of the things that gets me through winter, and now I have an explanation for why: hygge.
Hygge is a Danish concept that roughly translates to a feeling of coziness and conviviality, and it’s gaining traction far beyond Denmark’s borders. Apparently, the rest of us are starting to recognize not only that savoring life’s little pleasures makes us happy, but also that being intentional about that pursuit is important to our emotional health.
Hygge, pronounced HOO-gah, is derived from a Norwegian word meaning well-being. It’s a little hard to explain, because it’s a feeling, a you’ll-know-it-when-it-happens kind of experience.
It’s dressing in yoga pants and curling up with a book and a cup of cocoa. It’s putting away the electronic devices and enjoying comfort food with good friends.
For me, it’s spending an evening in front of a crackling fire, preferably with people I love.
The pursuit of hygge isn’t limited to winter, but winter is the perfect time for it. Dreary weather drives us to seek warmth and comfort, and that’s largely what hygge is all about.
The Danes certainly aren’t alone in knowing how to make themselves at ease, but they’ve elevated it to a priority. The very fact that they’ve given it a name shows the conscious effort they make to seek out an atmosphere of togetherness and comfort, said Meik Wiking, author of “The Little Book of Hygge” (William Morrow, $19.99).
Wiking is also CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, a think tank in Copenhagen that focuses on well-being and quality of life. He thinks there’s no coincidence that hygge-obsessed Denmark is consistently ranked among the happiest countries in the world, despite its cold, dark winters.
Now, Wiking said, hygge is sparking interest in societies like ours, where wealth hasn’t necessarily translated into well-being. We’re trying to find satisfaction in stuff, when we should be focusing on experiences.
“(Our) societies have become richer, but we as people have not become happier … and therefore people are looking for new sources of inspiration to improve quality of life,” he said in an email interview.
“Danes are not the only ones who can have hygge or identify it, but what is unique for Denmark when it comes to hygge is how much we talk about it, focus on it, and consider it as a defining feature of our cultural identity and national DNA.”
His hope is that other people will start talking about hygge the way the Danes do. “Our language shapes our behavior,” he pointed out, “and our behavior shapes our happiness.”
Start with a nook
So how can we add a little hygge to our lives?
Wiking suggests starting by creating what the Danes call a hyggekrog, a nook in your home specially designed for getting comfortable. It might be a window seat filled with pillows or a cushy corner of a sofa, a place where you’ll enjoy snuggling up in a blanket and maybe reading or watching the world go by.
Then make a point of sharing that cozy feeling with your friends and family. Maybe arrange to play board games together on the first Friday of every month, or plan to prepare a simple meal together. “Any meaningful activity that unites the group will knit everyone more tightly together over the years,” Wiking said.
Certain elements can help you set the stage for hygge, such as candles or soft lamplight, a fireplace and things made from wood or other natural items. Throw on some warm, comfortable clothes, indulge in something delicious to eat or drink, and enjoy that good feeling.
While you’re experiencing hygge, live in that moment, Wiking advises. Be grateful for it. Gratitude, after all, is linked to happiness.
And happiness is what hygge is all about.