Winter has never been my favorite season. Growing up in the Midwest, I regularly encountered temperatures below freezing and was cautioned more times than I can count about the dangers of black ice.
You’d think I’d have developed greater fortitude for slogging through these cooler months of the year, but moving to a warmer region only seems to have lowered my tolerance. Now, when the temperature drops below 50, I go into full hibernation mode, as if my body’s forgotten (or more likely suppressed) that it’s gotten through much tougher seasons.
“C’mon!” I tell myself, “Remember that winter the snow came up to your knees?” It’s of no avail. Forty degrees is the new 20.
Like a hug
That’s why when I learned about hygge, I knew I’d made a friend for life, one that could usher me through chapped lips, frosty windshields, cold feet and slippery sidewalks. It turns out this funny little word has a lot going for it.
Pronounced “hoo-guh,” hygge is a Danish term encompassing feelings of coziness and contentment from simple pleasures and good company, especially if your companion is a mug of hot tea or mulled wine. While there’s no English equivalent, the concept has taken the U.S. by storm in recent years, aided by bestsellers such as “The Little Book of Hygge” by happiness researcher Meik Wiking, and an increasing national appetite for self-care and simplicity.
A state of mind more than any particular set of practices, hygge encourages one to find respite in small pleasures, from chatting fireside with an old friend to pulling on your favorite pair of PJs at the end of a long day.
The term — which is used both as a noun and an adjective in Denmark — has been around since the early 1800s, derived from a 16th-century Norwegian term, hugga, meaning “to comfort” or “to console,” which is related to the English word “hug.” It’s no surprise that a country that consistently ranks among the happiest in the world has cornered the market on how to live comfortably.
And I don’t mean financially. In fact, if you’re convinced that the hygge way of life requires fancy frills or extravagant amenities, put your wallet away. On the contrary, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to bring a little hygge into your home this holiday season.
Board games and movie nights
Winter is the most hygge time of year, ripe with opportunities to bundle up in your warmest layers, hunker down for a night of board games and friendly competition, make a batch of your most-loved stew or watch the passersby from the corner of your local coffee shop. Even if you’re not a fan of the frigid temps, it’s hard to resist the countless invitations the end of the year brings for cozy nights indoors.
Blankets, slippers, oversized sweaters and cable knit throws are all hygge. So are candles, fresh-baked bread, crowded dinner tables and impromptu pillow forts.
One of the most important components of hygge is the sense of community it fosters. While it’s possible (and encouraged) to get your hygge on by yourself, its true expression is best achieved in the company of others.
This month, many of us will gather with family and friends, warmed by familiar smiles, old jokes and new traditions. As you prepare for gift exchanges and New Year’s countdowns, don’t lose sight of the small comforts that surround you.
Take in the crisp scent of a candle burning as you trim the tree. Sip homemade hot chocolate with your kids as you admire icicles outside your window. Invite a friend over for an afternoon of catching up and cookie-making.
Put on your warmest winterwear, ditch your phone and settle in for a movie marathon. Snuggle up with your pets for an afternoon of reading or puzzle-solving. Appreciate the tantalizing melodies of a church on Christmas Eve.
Hygge is such an important component of being Danish that it is considered “a defining feature of our cultural identity and an integral part of the national DNA,” says Wiking.
This winter, find ways to make it part of yours.