Summertime Hygge: How to Increase Happiness During the Dog Days
I said those words of rejection yesterday, not to my husband (though I've said them to him on occasion), but to my darling 3-year-old grandson Damien, who wanted to snuggle next to me as I read to him.
What's a hygge?
The Danish concept of hygge (pronounced "hoo-gah") is often thought to be about cuddling and coziness, cocooning and comfort. Much of the marketing of hygge-related objects is about blankets, slippers, candles, and cushions.
That's fine for a country that experiences plenty of overcast and rainy days all year round, and snow, sleet, and freezing temperatures during very long, dark winters.
But I don't live in Denmark. It's August, and I live in a climate where summer weather lasts from May through October. And I don't mean pleasantly warm weather that encourages lush green growth. I'm talking about north-central California summer weather, with no rain and high temperatures. When it's 96° we say, "Well, at least it's better than yesterday when it was 106°!" And did I mention no rain? Without dams and reservoirs it would be a desert.
In my opinion, there's nothing comfortable about that. I struggle to see beauty in the glaring sun and burnt brown countryside.
Can hygge be translated, I wonder? If it makes a long, dark, frozen winter bearable, can it also transform a seemingly endless, fire-prone summer? Is there such a thing as summertime hygge?
Protection and comfort
I found a little help from The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark. They explain that hygge is about taking time out of the daily rush and bustle to relax and enjoy life's quieter pleasures. In fact, a similar Old Norse word meant "protected from the outside world."
Protection. That's definitely what I need when it's over 100°.
Hygge is about comfort and ease, so you're most likely to find it in the company of family and old friends while in familiar surroundings. It's informal and undemanding, so no big production is required (in fact, that defeats the purpose). It's also about equality and mutual well-being, so everyone gets to enjoy it together. Hygge is a feeling of belonging.
You can also experience hygge when you're alone. Creating little rituals and pleasures for yourself that relieve boredom or harshness is "hyggeligt." Alex from Hygge House explains that the Danes think of hygge as a natural part of everyday life, rather than a forced or over-planned occasion. It's not about escaping to the beach or the mountains, but about noticing and appreciating good moments at any time, right at home.
12 Ways to Experience Hygge when It's Too Hot to Snuggle
I challenged myself to come up with activities that would be hyggeligt in the middle of a heat wave. See what you think.
1. Seek comfort.
In the same way winter's cold and darkness drives you toward a blazing fire and your coziest loungewear, let a hot, dry summer entice you toward shade, cool breezes, flowing or trickling water, an electric fan or air conditioner, and loose, lightweight, mostly-cotton clothing.
In winter you can savor hot coffee or simmer wine or apple cider with spices. But when temperatures are high, keep a good supply of ice for tall glasses of sweet tea, fresh lemonade, or water infused with fruit and herbs. You can make it in any pitcher you already own, but I like this infusion pitcher.*
3. Enjoy a garden.
Whether you care for roses and a colorful array of annuals in your yard, grow sweet peppers, cherry tomatoes, and a miniature lemon tree in pots on your patio, or nurture basil, mint, and rosemary on a windowsill, stay green! Stop by the farmers' market early on weekend mornings, and visit a botanical garden, arboretum, or natural forest whenever possible.
4. Go to the movies.
On a blazing hot afternoon, I like to go to the theater with a friend. With an icy cold drink (and maybe some hot buttered popcorn), we revel in the darkness, the big screen, and the air conditioning.
5. Take early morning walks.
I'm a night owl myself, but even I find something very refreshing about the earliest part of the day. It's also as cool as it's going to get for the next 24 hours.
Resist the urge to check your phone or listen to music or a podcast. Instead, leave home early enough to see the dawn, feel the dew, and hear the birds waking up. Walk briskly or at your leisure, breathe deeply, and by all means smell the roses.
Put on your bathing suit, grab your kids, and run through the sprinklers on your lawn. If it's too hot to even think about running, simply move your patio chair into the path of the spray, plop yourself down, close your eyes, and relax.
You might also like a rechargeable mini fan with an optional mister.
7. Sink into a good book.
Take a break from obligations and reread an old favorite or a new best seller. This summer, my list includes Jess Walter's funny and romantic Beautiful Ruins, the riveting thriller In the Woods by Tana French, and Barbara Kingsolver's wonderful first novel (set mostly in broiling hot Arizona), The Bean Trees.
8. Make something.
Stay inside where it's cool, and let your imagination and the joy of creation put you in a happy, relaxed mood. Draw, color, or paint rocks. Crochet a lacy, summer-weight shawl or tie-dye some tee shirts. Craft a birdhouse out of scrap wood or put together some wind chimes.
9. Break out the board games.
10. Share a no-cook meal.
If you're like me, you hate the thought of turning on the stove (or even lighting the barbecue) on those exceedingly hot evenings. But there are plenty of company-worthy no-cook recipes. So light a few candles and enjoy laughter and conversation with your loved ones.
Don't sweat your workout. If you must exert yourself, make it fun! String fairy lights all over the backyard and dance barefoot on the grass. Why not host a disco party? Savor those long summer evenings.
12. Read aloud.
Yes, a Netflix binge on a sweltering afternoon is stress-free. But it might not foster belonging or intimacy, both of which are very hyggeligt. On the other hand, reading aloud and sharing the experience of a book with others does promote closeness and understanding, as well as getting everyone's focus off of screens.
So gather some of your people and read a great book.
- If your kids are just starting to be able to enjoy longer stories (ages 4-7 or so), try the old-time favorite My Father's Dragon or Bruce Coville's The Dragon of Doom (first in a funny fantasy series).
- For ages 8 to adult, I think you'll love Suzanne Collins' Gregor the Overlander (first in an unforgettable series) or Gary Paulsen's classic survival story, Hatchet.
- You and your partner might enjoy reading William Goldman's hilarious and beloved novel, The Princess Bride, or Rebecca, a haunting romance by Daphne du Maurier.
Related article: How to Boost Your Energy with the Comfort of Hygge
Ready to hygge?
Aaaaah. I'm feeling more hopeful, and I can see why a hyggeligt mindset makes you happier.
I don't need to travel to cool, moist Denmark to experience hygge. Whether in icy winter or sweaty summer, it's far better to appreciate simple and enjoyable moments than to long for escape or wish away the time.
And when I see Damien, we're going to cuddle – directly under the ceiling fan.
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