The Danish know a thing or two about coziness and comfort. During long northern winters when it can be dark for up to 17 hours a day, Danes lift their spirits with hygge (pronounced "hoo-gah").
As days get shorter, wetter, and colder this season, we might all like to snuggle in and enjoy hygge, the Danish concept of positive self-care. But while hygge has been aggressively marketed of late, it is definitely not about buying something to improve your mood.
Meik Wiking, Danish author of The Little Book of Hygge, says that hygge has been corrupted by marketers who have turned something that has always been free into something they can sell. $100 "hygge blankets" and $40 "hygge-scented" candles are commercial hype. Hygge, Wiking explains, is not about things. It's a feeling of contentment that exists "only in the absence of stress and nuisance," when you experience a sense of relaxation and belonging.
It's not surprising that Brits and Americans have jumped on the hygge bandwagon. Ours is the culture that invented the 24-hour market and next-day delivery. We're famous for constant multi-tasking and voracious ambition.
But many of us also long for a slower pace, quality time with loved ones, a deeper connection to nature, and feelings of peace and tranquility.
Norwegian anthropologist and chef Signe Johanson, who wrote How to Hygge, says that the interest in hygge "isn't just because people are being duped by clever marketers." She receives a lot of emails from readers in the UK and North America who "find the idea of hygge to be a soothing element in times of upheaval, and who are genuinely interested in why and how Scandinavia has achieved such a high quality of life."
So if hygge is not just a trend or an aesthetic, what is it?
It's actually something we already know how to do. On a snow day, for example, you've probably experienced hygge without even knowing it.
Hygge is a feeling. It costs nothing. In fact, explains Johanson, if you're even thinking too much about it you're kind of missing the point. Hygge is "effortless comfort. It has no element of performance. It is the absence of all pretense and worry." It's about finding joy in the moment.
14 Ways to Experience Hygge Today
1. Make time for a relaxed dinner with loved ones.
Ditch your phone and enjoy laughter and conversation (and light a few candles if you feel like it).
2. Curl up with a good book.
Add some fluffy socks and a warm blanket, if you like. Let your pet curl up near you. Great novels to read in the winter include Peace Like a River and Bear Town by Swedish author Fredrik Backman.
3. Visit a cozy pub with friends.
This isn't really about going for a drink. It's about relaxing and being together. So a glass of wine, a cold beer, a mug of hot apple cider, or a foamy latte work equally well. Share your day, share your ideas, avoid political debates and celebrity gossip. Just be with your people!
4. Bundle up and go for a long walk.
Breathe deeply. Observe the sky, the trees, birds. Notice how colors appear brighter against the monochromes of winter. Be refreshed!
5. Make time to savor breakfast.
Most of us are rushing around in the morning, and not only skip breakfast, but lose the chance to connect with our families. With just 20 extra minutes you can make and eat whole grain toast topped with either a fried egg, some nut butter and raisins, or ricotta cheese with a drizzle of balsamic glaze. Or cook some old-fashioned oats, adding chopped apple and walnuts. Have everyone pitch in so you can work and eat together.
6. Bring out old photos.
Remember friends and family, special celebrations and wonderful trips. Reminisce with your partner, or share stories with your kids or grandkids.
7. Listen to music.
Sing along with the tunes you loved in high school, play some of your holiday favorites, or meditate on something deep and relaxing such as Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.
8. Make something.
Bring out your knitting needles or crochet hook and a skein of soft, beautiful yarn. Draw, color, or paint. Build Lego or do a jigsaw puzzle with your child.
This isn't the time for something fussy. Make your favorite banana bread, or some oatmeal or chocolate chip cookies. Enjoy a portion warm from the oven, then wrap up the rest for lunch treats later in the week. Savor the delicious, lingering aroma.
10. Watch a favorite movie.
Choose your favorite comedy or romance, or a beloved holiday film, and watch it alone or with someone else. Put your phone away and get comfortable.
11. Play cards.
Cards are so versatile -- games can be simple or competitive. A regular deck of cards can provide a fun and relaxing evening with friends or family. Enjoy Go Fish, Crazy Eights, Hearts, or Knockout Whist.
12. Simmer a pot of soup.
This is all about the warmth, the aroma, and the resulting easy, tasty meal. Just add some crusty bread and butter and you're set.
13. Pretend the power is out.
Turn off lamps, computers, and appliances (except the fridge). Gather in one room or around the table. Light a fire and some candles, or bring out flashlights. Enjoy the quiet togetherness.
14. Read aloud.
Get everyone nestled together while you read a stack of picture books, or start a longer book to be read over several nights. Wonderful winter chapter books include Moominland Midwinter (Scandi madness!), The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien's Letters From Father Christmas.
Experiencing hygge is really about making time, shunning distraction, and appreciating the good things in your life. It's a feeling minimalists know well.
P.S. If you enjoyed this post, you might also like my book Minimalism for the Holidays (paid link), available now on Kindle and in paperback.
Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash