What gets you through winter? Endless mugs of hot chocolate? Sleeping until midday whenever you can, while the world thaws slowly outside? Evenings indoors with your favourite people, watching movies or playing games until your contented yawns render it impossible to hold a conversation? If you spend those short days and long nights even remotely similar to me, you’ll have answered affirmatively to at least one of those questions. I actually have always quite enjoyed the cold, crisp air of this season... but this year I plan to revel in it like never before.
I’m sure you read the title of this piece before diving into it, and unless you are Danish, you most likely have no idea what hygge means. It’s the second paragraph already, and I still haven’t given you a definition! The thing is, hygge is an untranslatable word - its essence in its entirety can only be conveyed through that small, unassuming, five-letter Danish word. But remember the things I listed before? They are all examples of hygge in action. I suppose the closest equivalent to ‘hygge’ in English is the word ‘cosiness’, but it is more nuanced than that.
Recently, I read ‘The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well’ by Meik Wiking - in fact, that book inspired me to write this (shock!). The first thing it taught me and that I must now teach you is the pronunciation: it’s ‘hoo-ga’. I know, it makes no sense to me either, but at least I’m now one word into my quest to learn a Scandinavian language! Anyway... In the book, Meik gives many examples of hygge and, as he’s the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, I now feel very much aware of what constitutes a hyggelig experience. Oh, what’s hyggelig? It’s the adjective form of the word. Actually, looking at how Danes use the word hygge can aid one’s understanding of the concept itself. On pages 42-43 of The Little Book of Hygge is a dictionary defining an assortment of common derivatives. I’m a big fan of hyggehjørnet (to be in the mood for hygge) and hyggesnak (cosy conversation that doesn’t touch on controversial issues), but my favourite has to be hyggekrog, which refers to a nook in your home where you can sit and have a hyggelig time. I think the way that Danes use the word for this cosy, intimate, warm experience in such a free manner shows just how abstract this notion is, and how it can be integrated into every aspect of one’s life.
Now you understand what hygge is, you may well be wanting to implement it into your daily routine - I know I did after just one chapter of Meik’s book. Time to pass on my newfound wisdom to you! In a study referenced in the book, a huge 85% of Danes mentioned candles when asked what they most associate with hygge. Ever since reading this, I’ve been lighting a candle or two in my room every evening as darkness arrives outside. The flame twinkles next to me as I finish my school work for the day, and I can safely say it has often transformed my mood. There’s even one lit on my desk as I’m writing this - how perfectly hyggelig! Grab yourself a candle and you’re halfway to hygge. Add a hot drink to that, and you’re doing even better. Blankets, warmth, good food, good company: these are all cornerstones of hygge and there’s no reason not to cram your life with them as much as you can.
Not that you haven’t experienced hygge before - actually, I’m very confident that you already have. The difference is, I doubt you’ve given a name to that cosy feeling, or thought of it as the product of a well-crafted recipe like they do in Denmark. Many people say Christmas time is the ultimate hygge season, so you may have had a hyggelig time very recently! However, the time for hygge has not been and gone; in my opinion, it is needed now more than ever. The vast majority of Danish people agree that autumn and winter are the best months for hygge, and I agree - curling up under a blanket feels cosier than ever when there’s a storm brewing outside. But winter is far from over! Hygge may be a key part of a time like autumn, with its stunning golds and oranges in the air, or Christmas, with its family-focused fireside hyggesnak, but it seems to come easily in those months. In January and February (or whenever the Christmas-free winter months are in your part of the world) is when we have to work for our hygge. It isn’t spilling out of everyone’s front window as they huddle up to watch their favourite festive film, and it isn’t twinkling in the front hedge like a string of winking fairy lights would. Instead, it’s an effort we make, however small. I now implore you to make that effort. Light a candle! Pour yourself a cup of your favourite hot drink! Find the time to escape into your favourite book.
These things, particularly the latter, are hard to fit comfortably into one’s post-holiday back-to-school/work life. However, all this means is that it’ll be all the more rewarding when you indulge in the hygge you’ve been longing for all day.
It is my hope that my ramblings have at least planted the seed of an idea in your head that can help you find your hygge this winter. Especially in this era of social distancing and isolation, it is important to incorporate a little escapism into your life each day. It may well be harder to get that fully hyggelig experience without the ‘good company’ element I mentioned earlier, but you can hygge no matter who you’re with - yes, even alone, or perhaps over Zoom… that could well be uncharted hygge territory! At the very least, light a candle. If you don’t have one, find some fairy lights or a warm lamp. Put it on, do something relaxing, and let the hygge come to you.
If you want a book recommendation to cosy up with, what could be better than Meik’s Little Book of Hygge? I am thankful to have entered 2021 armed with the knowledge and tools to create hygge for myself this year thanks to Meik’s book. We’ve all been wished a Happy New Year by now, I’m sure, but I may be the first to wish you a very hyggelig New Year! Have a good one.