(Original story published on December 6, 2016, on CanadianLiving.com.)
Think about some of your warmest memories—drinking wine and reminiscing with girlfriends, chatting with your mom while she whips up a batch of your favourite muffins, having a dinner date that leads to cocktails that leads to stargazing by the water because neither of you want the night to end—that’s hygge. It’s finding happiness in the every day, and all you need to be able to attain it is to know about it.
Some say the Danish word is pronounced “hooga” but according to Marie Tourell Søderberg, author of Hygge: The Danish Art of Happiness, it’s like this: The “y” is similar to the French “y” sound—think “huge,” and the “gge” sounds like the first syllable in “girl.” But, it doesn’t really matter how you say “hygge”—you just need to get it. And to get it, you need to know where it comes from.
Hygge originates from a Norwegian word that means “well-being,” and in English, it means “coziness,” but it’s much more than that. Hygge is appreciating the little things in life. It’s “all the small things that make us feel safe, loved and satisfied,” says Søderberg. Hygge is doing things with warmth and joy, being present in the moment, and having a feeling of home—in other words, the Danish way of life.
Denmark is ranked as one of the happiest nations in the world, and hygge is likely an “ingredient in the Danish recipe for happiness,” says author Meik Wiking in his book, The Little Book of Hygge. Compared to other Europeans, Danes “meet most often with their friends and family and feel the calmest and most peaceful.” And that’s why there’s a growing interest in hygge.
Books on the subject are quickly filling up store shelves—a simple Indigo search will pull up more than five books on hygge, all of which have come out in the later half of 2016 (including Søderberg’s and Wiking’s) or will be coming out in the early months of 2017—just in time for winter, which is pretty much the reason why hygge exists.
In her book, Søderberg says, “It originated due to the need to create joy, warmth and togetherness in a country that boasts long, cold winters”—something Canadians can relate to. Hygge encourages you to embrace the cold months instead of waiting for the sun to shine again. But, anyone, anywhere, can enjoy the benefits of hygge any time of year, as it’s all about sharing moments with those you love, indulging in comfort foods, and taking in the sights and sounds around you.
Understanding hygge and having a name for it helps you recognize it and look for it in your day-to-day life. “Including it in our daily narratives and language makes us aware of the qualities of the word. Saying, ‘let’s hygge tonight,’ states a clear intention of what qualities we want our evening to have—presence, lovingness, relaxed, informal—all these qualities in one word,” says Søderberg.
Intimate candlelit dinner parties, mulled wine by a fire and ice skating under twinkling lights are classic hygge moments, but it can also be found when you’re not expecting it. Hygge can happen in the least hyggelig (the adjective form of “hygge”) locations or in those in-between moments throughout your day—like when you’re hiding from the rain under an awning with a friend, listening to a sax player as you wait for the next subway to arrive, or laughing with your sister over the phone.
Although hygge can happen anywhere, the most common place for it is at home, so it helps to make your living quarters feel warm, safe and welcoming—think candles, warm textiles and plenty of personal touches. In Søderberg’s book, she shares decorating advice from Nordic interior design expert Christina B. Kjeldsen: “The hygge comes when you feel that the person behind the surroundings is completely comfortable with his or her choices, but at the same time isn’t afraid of decorating intuitively and trying out new things and ideas…When you put thoughtfulness into how and why you have chosen to surround yourself with particular furniture, objects, art, flowers, knick-knacks, curtains—whatever—then you relax and your guests will see and know you for who you are.”
But, it’s important not to feel pressure to create a perfect space or occasion and force hygge. Decorate your space for you and not how you think it should be, and let moments unfold naturally—something that can be all too rare in this social media age. Søderberg warns, “The most hyggelig evening can look like a disaster in a picture, and opposite—the least hyggelig can look like a perfect evening.” But, if you have a true hyggling moment, it’ll be a “piece of art to capture the exact sense of an atmosphere in a photo.”
So, keep hygge on your mind. Make plans to hygge, be present in every moment, and soak up life’s glories. And if you do, you’ll be gifted with the ability to, as Søderberg says, “[find] the magic in the ordinary.”