Things in the US are a little tense. We have a new President vowing to shake things up, climate change could diminish food supply for our grandchildren (and their grandchildren), celebs can’t stay alive, refugees need homes, citizens need affordable homes, and we’re all still reeling after the Brangelina break-up.
All this uncertainty and tension has given way to one of the hottest buzzwords of 2017: Hygge. Danes are some of the happiest people on Earth, why not take a page from their book?
What is Hygge?
It can be tough to define because hygge (pronounced Heu-Gah or Hoo-Gah) doesn’t directly translate from Danish to English. It can be a noun, verb, adjective, or anything in between. Hygge typically describes the warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you’re surrounded by people and things that make you feel comfortable.
Helen Russell, the author of The Year of Living Danishly, defines the concept as “the absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming; taking pleasure from the presence of gentle, soothing things,” while building and sustaining relationships that cultivate personal wellbeing.
But it’s not that simple. Hygge is a concept entrenched in the Danish culture, often thought of as a way to combat the brutal, dark Scandinavian winters. Signe Johansen, author of How to Hygge: The Secrets of Nordic Living, explains “it’s been slightly misconstrued as cosy domesticity, but it is much more deeply rooted in culture and resilience and making the most of what life has to offer you.”
It’s much more than lighting a candle and wrapping yourself in a fluffy blanket while powering through the latest season of Gilmore Girls. It’s about surrounding yourself with friends and family, living in the now, and actively recognizing all you have to be grateful for.
The Americanized Version
In classic capitalist fashion, the word has been transformed by marketers to mean sell, sell, sell! Buy those cozy slippers, invest in luxurious bedding, shop for candles, purchase pillows, gulp down wine and cake guilt-free! Do it because the Danes do it!
Not quite… The Danes are significantly less materialistic than most Western cultures, something left out of marketers’ pleas to adopt the Danish concept. But can you blame them? “Be happy with what you have” doesn’t move product off the shelf.
“Hygge has been reduced to the visual image of cake and candles, and it’s not really about that,” says Johansen, and the fact that it’s become a buzzword is “a source of amusement” for people of the Nordic region.
How to Hygge a Room
While the emphasis should be on surrounding yourself with friends, the environment you create for yourself does come into play. Think simple, natural, comfortable.
Simple. Nordic furniture is filled with natural shapes, smooth lines, and not much else. It’s famous for melding minimalism with modernism, for designs that never really go out of style. Spaces that cultivate hygge never have more than they need, and focus on comfort over aesthetics. Add soft textures to the room with pillows and blankets made from natural materials like wool, cotton, and cashmere.
Natural. Hygge embraces natural light, so find a way to flood the room with it. Use lighter colors, and a lot of white, to help reflect the natural light around the room. And when the natural light starts to fade be prepared with candles. Lots of candles. In addition to light, hygge encourages the use of natural materials and, well, nature. Add some indoor plants to improve the air quality, and opt for natural wood and leather furniture to add warmth and coziness to your space.
Comfortable. Everything should be comfortable. Floor to ceiling comfort. And this is largely based on personal preferences. Hang a few pictures or paintings that evoke a sense of calm, invest in some house slippers, shamelessly rock those old sweats that you wouldn’t dare don in public. Let them hate, do what makes you comfortable.
Don’t forget the true meaning of Hygge
Hygge is far less about what you surround yourself with, and more about whom you surround yourself with. It’s not fuzzy blankets that make Danes so happy, it’s the ability to appreciate the present moment that has been engrained into the Nordic culture. Surround yourself with those that make you laugh, and the people you’re most comfortable being yourself around. And actively enjoy their company.
In a way, hygge is very similar to the practice of mindfulness and meditation. The brain’s natural instinct is to dwell on the negative, because, evolutionarily speaking, that’s what kept us alive (caveman sees cave buddy eaten by lions, now avoids lions). But the concept of hygge drives the continual recognition and acknowledgment of the positive aspects of the current moment. By repeatedly choosing to focus on the good, and allowing the bad thoughts to pass by without affecting us, our resting minds begin to have a more positive outlook.
It’s nice to think that surrounding ourselves with plush possessions will provide us with Danish levels of happiness, but that’s simply not the case. If you truly want to embrace hygge, plan a game night with friends, or sit down with your family and talk (for the younger readers, talking is how humans communicated before texting was a thing). 2017 is going to be a crazy year, be sure to take the time to enjoy it.