What Is Hygge and How to Create It All Year Long
Picture this: It’s Friday night. You’ve had a long week, and you’re so ready to relax, but you made fun plans with your girlfriends months ago. You’ve been looking forward to visiting a trendy new spot in town together, but tonight, all you can think about is going home, curling up on the couch with a cashmere throw, putting on a seaweed face mask, then soaking in a tub filled with lavender-infused bath salts. Ahhhhhhhh.
Or, what if instead of spending the night alone, you were honest with your friends? Rather than cancelling, you invite them over to cook a casual meal, pop open a bottle of wine (or two!), and catch up on one another’s lives. Savoring the home cooked food, engulfed in the smell of your favorite freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, then dunking them together into a warm glass of DIY almond milk for dessert, suddenly you notice a sense of deep satisfaction – you’ve found hygge.
Hygge (pronounced “hoo-guh”) is a homey Danish concept that exploded into the New World over the past year – it was even short-listed for the Oxford English Dictionary’s Word of the Year in 2016! There are at least a dozen books on the subject, and references to the phenomenon are all over social media. So what is hygge?
The word itself doesn’t have an exact translation into English, but “coziness” is a close cousin. It’s both a feeling and a practice, and it’s all about living in the moment and being aware of the little things in life – appreciating simplicity, and mindfully making time for simple pleasures. You’ve been there before, even if you didn’t know the word: it’s a sense of well-being or connection to your home, yourself, nature, or your family and friends.
In the winter, hygge is practically effortless. Picture sitting by the fire with a cup of hot cocoa, nestled under a quilt with thick, warm socks on your feet and candles flickering all around you. But hygge is more than just a nice feeling: practicing hygge year-round supports the mental and emotional well-being of residents in the far north through the long, dark winter days. The Danes have it honed down to an art form, but you don’t have to be Danish or in the middle of January to create more opportunities to experience hygge in your everyday life.
Here are some of my best ideas on how to embrace hygge throughout the entire year:
Create Simple Rituals
Start with the patterns of your daily life: where and when do you feel joy versus struggle? Rethink habits that no longer serve you and simplify your everyday tasks. For example, consider your morning routine (if you have one). Perhaps rushing out the door to grab a cup of coffee or tea, then gulping it down on the way to work, leaves you stressed, rather than alert. If so, try reconnecting with the oh-so-satisfying resistance of pressing down the plunger on your battered old French press or steeping a loose-leaf tea in a clear glass pot. On the other hand, maybe all you need is your favorite mug and a single deep breath to relish the smell of your freshly made latte. (My new, hygge-approved morning ritual involves a calming Lavender Latte!)
Daily routines should feel effortless and involve simple moments of satisfaction and connection. If something is forced or rushed, consider why. Then, think creatively about how to reinvent your routines to nourish you and light you up. (And of course, “I’m too busy” is not an excuse!)
Incorporate All Five Senses
Hygge flourishes in the right environment. To find that sense of peace, start by creating a pleasant and comfortable setting without annoyances or distractions. Break it down into what you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel to help you be in the moment.
What works for you may stay the same all year round – imagine a bubble bath lit by candles or a glass of wine and a conversation with an old friend; it may also change from season to season – freshly cut flowers from your local farmer’s market in the spring; fresh orange peels and cinnamon simmering on the stove in the winter. Either – or both! – might give you that same hygge feeling.
Resting in a hammock with a spa water or popsicle and a good book is the summer equivalent of that familiarly cozy winter scene by the fire; picnicking on a blanket spread across lush green grass after a hike with a good friend (and pups!) can make you feel similarly relaxed and content. Whatever your preference, envision a scene and feeling that allow you to luxuriate, then make it your reality in whatever way creates "coziness" for you.
Make Food for the Soul
Oh, come on: you know I couldn’t possibly talk about hygge without bringing in food! Meals are a natural time to practice hygge, embracing dishes that make you feel good physically and emotionally. Food is a powerful way to connect with friends and family, as well as a strong trigger of memory, and can recall the same sense of love and happiness that we have when we’re surrounded by those nearest to us.
Maybe there is a spice that evokes memories of home – or of your host family’s exotic home-cooked cuisine from when you studied abroad. Recreating experiences with certain dishes can help you tap into those warm and fuzzy thoughts and emotions. To do it yourself, dig out Grandma’s recipe for Roasted Chicken when you’re missing family, or whip up a batch of a modern update to your mom’s nourishing Immunity Noodle Soup to freeze for the next time you’re sick.
Food can also satisfy multiple senses. Go beyond taste and imagine the smell of freshly baked brownies or the sight of a pretty, colorful salad inviting you to sit down at the table. The simple act of eating soup is comforting, even if it is a spicy gazpacho on a blazing hot summer day. Fix up memory-laden meals and recipes that feed your soul, served up with a side of hygge.
It turns out, hygge can be as fleeting as a moment – or as permanent as a lifestyle. It’s about mindfulness and appreciation, finding happiness in everyday objects and happenings. You can’t will it into a given situation, but by keeping your eyes and mind open and being aware of your needs and desires, you’re bound to embrace hygge more readily and more frequently, even as the Danish-feeling winter weather gives way to the lightness and brightness of spring.
Now it’s your turn: How do you hygge? Let’s inspire one another to live intentionally and whole-heartedly! Share your favorite examples and inspirational moments in the comments.