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Do you hygge? What it is and how to do it this winter

Posted on December 26, 2017 at 6:00 am

By Abra Cole

Do you hygge?

Maybe you have no idea what I’m asking about. I didn’t either, until recently when I listened to the audiobook of Meik Wiking’s The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living. I highly recommend reading or listening to this book. The author himself does the reading for the audiobook, and his charming Danish accent, along with his subtle self-effacing sense of humor, add so much to the written words.

Hygge, pronounced HOO-guh, is the Danish word that is generally described as a feeling of coziness and of enjoying the specialness of ordinary things. This one word is meant to convey the importance of slowing down and simplifying life, even if just for an evening.

Getting wrapped in a cozy blanket with my favorite hot beverage and a tasty sweet treat are my idea of a completely perfect evening in. But it is also so much more than that.

Any practitioner of hygge who you ask will struggle to give you a complete and satisfying definition. Each person’s idea of a perfect hygge evening varies because everyone’s idea of coziness and comfort also varies.

Not only does hygge have many interpretations, it can also be used in nearly any context. An evening can be hygge and so can an idea, a business, a person, or a beverage.

My favorite hygge-associated word is the adjective hyggeligt. Meaning: hygge-like. I have been applying this to all aspects of my life since I learned it. Is my home hyggeligt enough? Or shall I add a few candles to my daily life? Yes. Yes, I should. How can I make my work space more hyggeligt? Adding some family photos and a potted plant is a good start!

Here in eastern Washington, our winters are slightly warmer than those experienced in Denmark and a few other Northern European countries, but we still fall well within the geographical lines of latitude for enjoyment of hygge. Yes, you can enjoy the outdoors in Spokane in the winter. And this time of year also serves as a welcome excuse for those of us more prone to frostbite to stay indoors and get our hygge on.

According to Wiking, there are several important components to a successful hygge experience. These components include, but are not limited to, four central elements:

Ambiance

Lighting: blazing overhead light is a major no-no in the world of hygge. Anything that makes a person feel like they are under suspicion of a crime must be turned off. Candlelight and other soft light options are a necessity when preparing your hyggeligt setting. Denmark wins the prize for burning more candles per capita than any other European country, and Wiking says this is due to the high importance of having a hygge lifestyle. A fire in the fireplace is also an acceptable light source.

Seating: Cozy couches and chairs, or even sitting around the fireplace on the floor, is hygge. Heavy, snuggly blankets and kittens in your lap help. A sense of nature, like a potted plant, a dried flower arrangement, or whatever brings the outdoors inside for you also adds to this.

Music: Depending on who you’ve decided to hygge with, music might also be something to consider to set mood. A little background music might complete the sense of being surrounded by hygge. It’s a given that your head-banging rock probably shouldn’t be on your playlist, but there’s no reason not to queue up some jazz, blues, or other mellow favorites. For some, the quiet sounds of conversation, fires crackling, and popcorn popping are just right—whatever gives you a sense of settling in.

Nourishment

Food—both the eating and the preparation of it—are vitally important aspects of hygge.

The preparation of food is an excellent opportunity for enjoying the simple things in life, and cooking with friends and loved ones serves to increase that sense of community and comradery.

Scandikitchen: Fika & Hygge: Comforting Cakes and Bakes from Scandinavia with Love by Bronte Aurell has many delicious recipes and beautifully inspiring photography by Peter Cassidy to fill your nourishment needs, from your smallest hyggeligt event to your biggest celebratory bash. Even if you don’t consider yourself a baker, the photos in this book will make you want to learn!

Some of the foods connected with hygge are easily recognizable comfort foods and warm drinks—especially coffee and hot cocoa and pretty much anything sweet like the cakes, cookies, and donuts. Hey, the Danish do have a sweet breakfast treat named after them, after all.

Camaraderie

For a full feeling of hygge, you need to bring together a small group of close friends or family who can be fully comfortable with each other. In fact, hygge has its fullest effect when the group is small and intimate, even though many of people enjoy a large group get-togethers. For hygge, it’s best if those involved have known one another for many years.

While Hygge isn’t about limiting conversation to small talk, it is about comfortable conversations. This would not be the place to introduce your radical political ideas, or politics at all. It would not be a good time to bring up that theory you have about how gramma had a favorite grandchild either. It is the place to tell happy stories and relive shared memories.

As Louisa Thomsen Brits, author of The Book of Hygge writes, “Hygge is a place of safety, warmth, and welcome that can exist because there are rules of engagement in place.”

Activities

Hygge is often centered on a particular activity; a shared meal, a hike, a book reading, or just an evening off. And yes, you can hygge outside—a picnic in the park or a BBQ in the backyard are acceptable hyggeligt events.


The Joy of Hygge: How to Bring Everyday Pleasure and Danish Coziness into Your Life by Jonny Jackson and Elias Larsen offers many hyggeligt ideas for bringing hygge into your own home and get-togethers. They include decorating ideas, activities to try, and recipes for tasty food and drink, just to name a few.

And while you could have a hyggeligt evening on yacht or while dining on fancy fare, the most hyggeligt of experiences, according to Wiking, are those where anyone could feel comfortable and cozy—softly lit, warm, well fed, and with loved ones.

The one thing Wiking says that makes the most hygge of settings even more hyggeligt is for a storm to be raging outside or the power to be out, forcing everyone to light a few more candles and get that much cozier together. A sense of security in the face of danger is the best add-on to the ideal hygge day.

This is why Spokane provides us with a potentially perfect setting for hygge. Pretty much every winter offers us a great place to enjoy a good snuggle under a pile of warm blankets.

So, if you’re thinking that you need more hygge in your life, the first step is to identify how, where, and with whom you feel most comfortable, and do more of that.

Grab some candles, your favorite chocolate or other treat, and your best friends and family members, and then snuggle up with your coziest blankets for a game of scrabble or storytelling around the fire. If you prefer the outdoors, invite a few buddies on a snowshoe hike, followed by your favorite winter beverage. Whatever you decide to do, make sure it is whatever makes you feel the most hyggeligt.

Abra Cole

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