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Hygge is a path to happiness, so the Danes would have us believe. Denmark has several times been crowned the happiest country in the world, and is ranked an impressive no. 2 in this year’s World Happiness Report.
Key to their contentment? Hygge. At least, in part. Pronounced 'hue-gah', it doesn’t translate directly to English but the closest seems to be cosiness or cosy. Big time cosy, in the sense that hygge is more a mindset, a way of life, than something you do or have.
Why are the Danes world leaders in 'cosiness'? What can the rest of us learn from them? “[They] are aware of the decoupling between wealth and wellbeing,” explains the author of The Little Book of Hygge, Meik Wiking. “After our basic needs are met, more money doesn't lead to more happiness. Instead Danes are good at focusing on what brings them a better quality of life.”
Outside of Denmark, the photogenic lifestyle ‘craze’ (visualise serene Scandi home interiors with mood lighting and neutral chunky knits) has focused on savouring simplicity – by consciously finding meaning and peaceful pleasure in the every day, for example. Meals with friends and family, hot baths, cuddles with our pet, and huddling around a roaring fire are all hygge.
Helen Russell, a British journalist and author of The Year of Living Danishly, defines hygge as “taking pleasure in the presence of gentle, soothing things,” like a freshly brewed cup of coffee or a wooden floor.
As well as upping the hygge factor by describing things as hyggelig (hygge-like), Danes love adding hygge to other words. For example, a hyggekrog is essentially a snug – think of a favorite armchair where you meditate or read, or wrapping yourself up in a big blanket in a calm and cosy room with a view.
Here’s how to harness the power of hygge in your life:
1. Make your home a haven
The home is “hygge headquarters,” says Meik. It’s so important, that the Danish have a word for it: hjemmehygge (home hygge). Bless your home. Keep it clean, tidy, decluttered and peaceful. Surround yourself only with people and things that ‘spark joy in your heart’ to quote decluttering phenomenon, Marie Kondo. Essentially, hygge is about creating a harmonious atmosphere rather than (buying) things.
2. Look after your loved ones
“In all the work I have done within the field of happiness research, this is the point I am surest about,” says Meik. “The best predictor of whether we are happy or not is our social relationships.” Enjoy the friends, family and pets that uplift and care for you. These vital connections helps us feel good, manage stress, and be healthy.
3. Create calm with candles
As much as 85% of people associate hygge with candles claims The Happiness Research Institute; 28% of Danes light candles every day. Ask one and they'll likely say that candles are the most important part of creating a hyggelig atmosphere at home. According to the European Candle Association, every Dane burns 13 pounds of candle wax a year – more than in any other country in the world. And no wonder. There’s an undeniable power in their light and warmth that transforms a space and makes it magical. Obviously, natural non-toxic candles are safest; ones made of soy or beeswax.
4. Surrender to soothing sounds
Whether it’s listening to rhythmic ocean waves through Alexa, delighting in the wind whistling outside, or the sound of rain pouring down when you’re warm and dry inside, appreciating the soundscape of your life is totally hygge. Feeling inspired, we’ve created a hygge playlist – a mellow mix of easy listening classics that we hope you enjoy. Listen to it here. Even better, sing along! Singing is hygge too.
5. Dress to destress
Do sweatpants and slippers count as hygge? Yes! Believe or not, the Danes even have a name for the jogging trousers you relish getting into as soon as you get home from work – probably aaaahing! and smiling as you do – but wouldn’t dream of wearing in public. Hyggebukser. Think mega-comfort, plus cosy feet, oversized jumpers, dressing gowns and luxurious loungewear.
6. Get grateful
Feeling appreciation for life’s little things is instant hygge. Instead of complaining, look for the good and the nice around you. The support of your chair. The warmth of your clothes. Your health. The familiar taste of your tea. If you're feeling social, show your gratitude by thanking someone for helping you, or joyfully doing something for them in return.
7. Cook up some comfort food
“Hygge is about being kind to yourself – giving yourself a treat,” says Meik. We’re talking porridge, pasta, popcorn, hot cocoa in your favourite mug, and homemade classics like apple crumble and ice cream. Comfort food and drinks (in moderation, naturally) are high in hygge. Seek and enjoy them for the contentment they bring. Spend a weekend afternoon baking, for example. Or have a barbecue, or a picnic in the park – both are equally hygge.
However you define it, hygge comes into its own in autumn and winter,the most hygge times of year, and a time when us Brits naturally show our hygge-ist side. Especially Christmas when the fairy lights and dinner invitations come out.
We love our crisp-aired country walks, leaves a-crunching beneath our feet, our roaring fires, mulled wine and chats, twinkling lights in windows and on trees, gift giving and carol singing. We just don’t have a name for it, that’s all. Perhaps we should. Perhaps we’d all be better off prioritising life’s simple pleasures all year round.
Director of Action for Happiness, Dr Mark Williamson, thinks so: “A more hygge-focused culture could contribute not just to happier individuals and families but also to more caring communities and a happier society as a whole.”