Hygge: Bringing Danish Happiness Home

by Elizabeth Dengler, The Huckleberry Home

A handful of winters ago I found myself in that strange time warp in the winter season that seems to exist right after the Christmas Season comes to an end and Groundhog Day. The worst part of that little Bermuda Triangle of time is when all the light, sparkles, sounds and smells of Christmas get packed up. A few years back I left for work one morning with Christmas in tact and then came home from work to a cold, dark house. All the lights and decorations from Christmas were in bins my Grand Fir tree had been chucked in the front yard and the Grinch came and stole all the sparkle from my house!!! What actually happened was my husband packed up everything and cleaned the house. But I didn’t know what to do to bring back the wonderful feeling that I have during Christmas. Winters are cold, long and dark here, what could I possibly do to bring back the light and warmth I experience during the holidays? Bound and determined to have an enjoyable winter, I got into action; which looked like me opening the Pinterest App on my phone. There I discovered “Hygge” (pronounced /ˈhʊɡə/).

Hygge is a Danish word that has no English translation, the closest I’ve been able to get to its meaning is “physical and mental coziness”. Denmark is the most populated area with the longest, coldest winters in the world and extraordinarily limited amounts of daylight. Yet, somehow the Danes manage to be the happiest people on the planet. National Geographic did a study to find the happiest people on the Earth and the Danes won, even in the cold and dark. Why are they so happy? Hygge! I’ve devoured books and articles, watched YouTube videos and documentaries from Danish people sharing hygge. I’m not Danish, it’s something I study and want to incorporate into my world in a way that can support a light and comfort in a time of the year I don’t always experience as being either of those. So, how does this American begin to achieve this Scandinavian lifestyle? The following are 6 tips I put together for easy ways to incorporate light and coziness into your life:

  1. Create your environments to have a cozy feeling. I have a candle budget and a promise to my husband not to burn all the firewood by the middle of February. I light scented candles or put water with cranberries, oranges and cloves on my stovetop. There is also an abundance of big soft blankets and pillows in the living and sleeping areas of our home.
  2. Gather! Get with people. Any people! Invite friends over for food and games, gather at a shelter and share your time and a coffee with someone in our community, chat up strangers in a coffee shop and play a board game. Volunteer, it’s not just for the holidays.
  3. It’s in what you wear. As a Southerner we were not taught how to layer for cold weather, because you just needed a jacket, maybe a couple mismatched mittens, and any footwear that wasn’t flip flops (socks were optional). But not in the Inland NW! I asked my husband, a Spokane native and avid outdoorsman, to teach me how to layer clothes. And it has made all the difference! Physical coziness outside in cold weather can be done and it’s key for optimum hygge.
  4. Be active. Find activities you enjoy and do them; in particular outdoor activities like skiing, snowshoeing, ice sculpting, hiking, or igloo building. Although, indoor activities would be appropriate if outside is just too awful. For example, you could take dance lessons, karate classes (not just for kids), go to trampoline parks (not just for kids), or free stuff like mall walking with a buddy (that was THE exercise of the early 90s.)
  5. Eat treats. No joke, the Danes don’t often skip dessert. It is the home of the perfected Danish after all! Of all the countries in Scandinavia the Danes are slightly more plump than their neighbors and happier. But like anything, it’s about what you enjoy eating. You know, if you like cake then have a piece of cake.
  6. It’s a way of being. This is not just about creating an atmosphere in a physical location, but creating a way to be in the world, something you can create within yourself. Being comfortable, being inviting, being friendly, being engaging, being loving…be whatever way works for you and those around you to experience physical and mental coziness. The physical manifestation supports the way you are choosing to be in the world.

I got a lot out of my first winter of practicing hygge. I reconnected with old friends, made new friends (which turns out you can still do in your 40s), shared meals with homeless families at a church, fed lots of people, perfected my fire building skills, made useful crafts like fire starters with my kids, wore long underwear and learned how to crochet from YouTube videos!

What would you like to do, what is something you’d like to try or learn? Think about times when you experienced being happy and cozy and look to see what was present. Here’s to creating hygge!