Hygge. It’s one of those words that seems completely made-up—or at least radically misspelt, however you will soon discover, most likely on one of those lists of ‘untranslatable foreign words we should all know’, that it is in fact real.
The Danish practise of hygge finds its closest English equivalent in the concept of cosiness. Pronounced ‘Hue-gah’, a small clue serendipitously resides in its phonetic similarity to the word ‘hug’. While our idea of cosiness often conjures up images of the warm yellow glow of candles and an abundance of woollen blankets and socks, the traditional idea of hygge is more expansive.
Helen Russell, author of The Year of Living Danishly, writes about her first experience of the concept as it was introduced to her by a Danish acquaintance:
‘Hygge. It’s a Danish thing. It’s hard to explain, it’s just something that all Danes know about. It’s like having a cosy time.’
‘Is it a verb? Or an adjective?’
‘It can be both, staying home and having a cosy, candlelit time is Hygge.’
Hygge seems to be a state of being. Indeed, Helen Russell describes hygge as ‘the absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming; taking pleasure from the presence of gentle, soothing things’. Hygge extends beyond woollen blankets and mittens encompassing the idea of retreating from the harsh elements, be they physical or emotional.
So if all this sounds appealing, you may now be wondering how you too can indulge in some hygge. However instead of succumbing to the sudden compulsion to rush to Ikea to buy everything you imagine you’ll need to get your hygge on, remember that excessive consumption is actually at odds with the experience. Focus instead on finding pleasure in the simple things, prioritising quiet moments and experiences that don’t require liberal use of a wallet or rustling shopping bags brimming with even more things.
Hygge is also marked by intimate connections over food with friends and family, joyful experiences and making fond memories.
Does all this sound too good to be true? How can we hope to achieve such an idyllic and contented state of being?
The grand idea of an argument-free family dinner complete with matching knitted jumpers may well be unattainable for many of us, however, there are some basic principles of hygge that we could all try to incorporate into our daily lives.
Find a quiet moment to appreciate the early morning twilight, enjoy coffee with a friend at a bakery or read a good book with slippered feet, as a candle flickers and silently consumes the wick. Seek out those moments of peace, conviviality and quiet introspection that offer a gentle refuge from the harshness of the world.
And did you know that Danes are the highest consumers of candles in the world? So we can safely assume that a decent collection of candles will go a long way in the pursuit of hygge.
For lovers of hygge—and all things Scandi—we have a few delightful titles for you to have a peek at below.
Serving suggestion: These are best read by flickering candlelight accompanied by a pot of tea.
For fun reads:
For lifestyle lovers: