7 years and 1 month ago I relocated my life to Denmark. The reasons why and how it all happened are long enough to fill their own book so I won’t tell you that story today. Today I want to tell you about one of the most important life lessons I have learnt by living in this lovely, flat, cold, expensive country and that is hygge. (pronounced huoo-gah)
Hygge is (well until recently), the Danish cultural pearl hidden in the oyster. It is a word that does not translate into any other language, yet every country in the world could benefit from. Let me explain. Hygge is not a thing, its a feeling. It’s that feeling you get inside you when it’s raining outside, the fires is lit, you’re on the sofa under a duvet with a cup of hot chocolate and a good book. Hygge is the feeling you get when you are sitting having a meal with friends or family where everyone is laughing and just enjoying being together. Hygge is a feeling of happiness, contentment, and cosiness all rolled into one. In my definition Hygge is simply the art of making life lovelier.
And the Danes do this all the time. In Denmark it is a cultural must to “hygge”, it would be weird if you didn’t. I remember in my first few weeks in Denmark when watching a film, my then boyfriend (who later turned out be Mr ‘never going to be perfect in a million years’ but at this time was still sweet and new) actually said to me “why aren’t you making effort to sit well and be cosy?” My english ‘I’m perfectly well thank you very much’ drama kicked in. However when I look back over this incident 7 years later I can see that he was just trying to get me to feel hygge.(I expect this clash of cultures confused the poor guy as much as it did me.)
Making life lovelier for yourself, having moments that are lovely and cosy are a seriously important social norm in Demark. As is making time for enjoying the benefits that joyful moments can bring in our everyday. Who doesn’t want a piece of that? I mean just think for a moment about where you are in the world and imagine, how different your life would be in everyone you know made making life lovelier for themselves and sharing lovely moments with each other an important social norm? See? Wow. You can see why I stayed here right? In essence the Danes have done what no other country in the world has done. Which is making the art of loving ourselves enough to make our lives lovier, as well as, enjoying simple moments of contentment a cultural norm. See and you thought it was only lurpak and bacon, the danes are culturally geniuses!
By now you are probably thinking about checking out flight prices and investing in moving boxes however, just hold your horses a moment. Hygge is something you can do right now. Right where you are. And if you share this article around with friends and family you can start to build the same cultural norm of hygge we have here. So today’s life lesson comes to you straight from my 7 danish years of learning how to hygge. I hope that you use these tips to make your life lovelier too….
Candlelight has a magical quality to it. No matter what you are doing lighting candles always changes the atmosphere. Before I moved to Denmark I would have probably described lighting candles as a female activity yet here that is not the case. Both men and women will light candles to create hygge. Especially now in the winter evenings when we light our candles at home it brings an instant feeling of inner warmth and cosiness (even when the electric lights are on). The candle light changes our environment and our mood.
A big part of hygge is about making your environment more cosy. Making it a nicer place to be. And it doesn’t just have to be adding candle light. For example when I work I play music suited to the task at hand. And recently I found that by adding aromatherapy oils (such as lavender and mimosa) into my cleaning products that my weekly house clean became a much nicer experience. So if you are doing something, and you want to make your experience nicer put some thought and action into how you can do that, and you will find you can have hygge even if you are just cleaning the toilet!
Pillow fort rituals
Every friday night in Denmark at six forty-five pm you will find a flurry of pillow forts being built and bowls being filled with snacks, as the children (and often their parents) get ready for the the Disney show. (I know if you are a danish reader you are now smiling because at some point in your life you did this too). The Disney show with friday night ‘slik’ (candy) is a time honored tradition in Danish culture. Now although thanks to the Disney Co you can find a disney show in almost any country, it doesn’t specifically need to be a disney show ritual you have to create in order to experience ‘hygge’. It is the ritual part that is important.
Creating something you do together the same way, at a regular time is a way to have hygge. Every friday night Mr T and I have date night. We make nice food (if our date is at home), we pre arrange whether we will seeing a movie, playing a game or doing crafts (currently I am teaching him how to tattoo!) It starts at 6pm every friday and it is lovely. A gentle and cosy start to our weekend every week. A weekly ritual (or monthly if weekly is too much, together with your family or closest friends) gives a comfortable feeling of hygge . Oh and take a tip from the Danes and build a pillow fort once in a while, everything in life is more cosy in a pillow fort no matter what your age!
By now most of the world is familiar with the Ikea catalogues. Scandinavian design flat packed to every corner of the world. But have you ever noticed all the blankets and throw cushions on those glossy pages? They are everywhere. And we the non scandinavian parts of the world have adopted these blankets and cushions into our own homes. The difference is we don’t use them like the Danes. Every Danish home has blankets and throw cushions. However these get used constantly. All those stylish cushions get moved around, blankets are draped over shoulders and legs to improve the quality of snuggling and relaxing.
Snuggling is a big part of hygge and a big cultural norm in Denmark. As an ex teacher from the UK I got a huge shock the first time I walked into a Danish primary school staff room filled with sofas, cushions and blankets and 2 teachers with their feet up, catching 20 mins shut eye and EVERYONE was ok with it. Completely alien to English cultural work values. But over the months I was working there I found it was so great to do the same. Group snuggling is also something that is a cultural norm over here. Now being British (and from a certain type of british family) I had never laid down and cuddled with my girlfriends while watching a film. Yet here it is completely normal for girls and guys, women and men to do this. (And it is without romance this is just normal friendship). It’s for want of a better word awesome. For the full danish experience of hygge cuddle down with a warm cup of something, covered in a blanket and cosy with a pile of cushions and see how your internal smile starts to grow.
The eating experience
Eating and hygge go hand in hand. Snacks in bowls, coffee with cake. However none of those compare to the big danish eating together hygge experience. The whole family/group of friends gets together to eat and enjoy time together. Instead of one stressed out person creating all the food and activity. In Danmark collectively everyone helps in the kitchen, lays the table, washes up and is part of creating the experience. Everyone pitches in. It’s like Christmas dinner or thanksgiving but without the holiday as an excuse for getting together and enjoying each others company.
Nothing says hygge like doing things together instead of alone. So if you want to feel a massive burst of hygge invite your friends over for a co creative dinner or lunch. Make the food together, eat the food together and enjoy each other.
Although a big part of it hygge is not all eating and blankets and snuggling. Having hygge can also be active. Going for walks, bike rides, having a day trip or even just regularly training at the gym with a friend also constitutes as hygge. Although more often seen as hyggeligt (adjective of the noun hygge pronounced hoo-ga-lee) when done with someone else, doing things alone, just because it’s lovely, is also seen as ‘hyggelig’. In Danish you can say Jeg hygge mig (I cosy me). So if you want to hygge you then getting out and doing something you love is exactly the right thing to do.
Self pampering is all good
One of the things I love about a culture that prizes hygge is that self pampering is completely socially acceptable. Basically loving yourself is all the rage. Doing hyggelig things for yourself is healthy and improves life quality 100%. So to create more hygge in your life practise some self love and some self pampering. For me this often comes in the form of saunas and facemasks (both easily accessible where I live). Find out the little things you can do easily to pamper yourself and make it important to do them will bring more hygge into your life.
Notice what is not hyggelig and what is hyggelig
Noticing what is hyggelig and what isn’t hyggelig is an important part of making your life lovelier. Noticing that what you are doing isn’t hyggelig for you, and then doing something to make it hyggelig, is half the battle of learning the art of hygge. (I refer again to the cleaning the toilets comment above). And at the same time noticing what is hyggelig, and appreciating it makes hygge much more effective in your life. The Danes often say “hvor hyggeligt”, or “how cosy”, when you tell them a story about something you did. They make the point of verbalising that a thing was in fact hyggelig and this makes them notice the good things in life. In other words practising active gratitude makes your life a lovelier place to be.
Making time for hygge
Now this is the BIG one, and is the fine art the Danes have really got down. They make time for hygge. If you asked a Danish person to imagine a life without time for hygge I honestly think their brain would implode. It simply would not make sense to them. And I completely agree. A life where you don’t make time to enjoy being cosy or make time to appreciate and be content with simple pleasures, is not a life well lived (in my opinion). Everyone needs hygge. Make hygge important for you and make time to enjoy it.
Hygge is an amazing daily practise I have learnt from the Danes. By actively making life more hyggelig for myself I make loving myself, and infact loving my life and my journey in life, more important. If we all did this. If we created this socially accepted culture of self love and creating moments of cosy contentment in life imagine what a world this would be to live in. All it takes is taking a moment to hygge and valuing the gift of a lovelier life that brings.
I hope you take some time to hygge you today….
Happy weekend <3