Here’s How You Can Brighten Winter with the Danish Practice of Hygge
Winter can be tough for many people, with fewer hours of daylight and plunging temperatures. Sure, there are many holidays and celebrations to look forward to, but they can come with over-the-top busyness, and expectations can be emotionally and physically draining.
This season, give yourself a break and perhaps elevate your happiness by following the Danish practice of hygge.
Hygge literally means—well, there is no direct translation into English! But it is a sense of cozy comfort, gratitude, and well-being. Pronounced “hoo-ga” or “hui-gah,” it is a common practice in Denmark to prioritize slowing down the pace of life and enjoying simple pleasures, such as close family and friends, food, nature, and relaxation.
Denmark is known for being one of the happiest countries in the world, and hygge may be the reason. With the average winter temperature hovering at the freezing mark and a mere seven hours of sunshine each day in December, the Danes use this time to comfort themselves and enjoy what they have.
History of hygge
The word hygge comes from the Norwegian language, where it means well-being. It was first seen in Danish writing in the 18th century. The concept of hygge fits well into Danish culture, which embraces genuine connection and a laid-back approach to life.
Although the concept of hygge grew in Denmark, an article published about it in 2015 began a spike in coverage around the globe. Subsequent articles and books about hygge followed. In 2016, the word hygge made the Oxford Dictionary shortlist for word of the year. It was defined as “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture).”
As the idea of hygge became more popular worldwide, it became more commercial. The Broadway production of the musical Frozen includes a song called Hygge—ensuring future generations will be well-versed in the concept. Lifestyles stores promote furniture, blankets, candles, and other accessories to make a home more hygge. Still, the original meaning of the word focuses on enjoying what you have, not necessarily needing to get more.
In addition to being a newly accepted word in Scrabble, hygge can be used as a verb, adjective, and noun.
Ways hygge may help happiness
While practicing hygge sounds good, can it really make you happy? Everyone is coping with different stressors and situations. However, hygge corresponds with the concepts of well-being and happiness.
Connection is essential to hygge, and good social relationships are a key predictor of happiness. Hygge is a perfect solution year-round, especially in winter when people socialize less and can feel more isolated without activities with close friends.
A significant part of hygge is gratefulness, an appreciation of what you have. Research shows that gratitude is strongly associated with greater happiness. According to Harvard Medical School, “gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” Practicing hygge provides regular opportunities to appreciate the people and things around you.
Rest is another aspect of hygge that translates to well-being and happiness. Taking time from overloaded schedules to slow down and relax reduces stress, boosts creativity and productivity, and helps decision-making. Instead of waiting until burnout occurs, hygge creates built-in downtime.
Adding hygge to your life
If you don’t think you’ve practiced hygge before, there is no need for FOMO—you probably have! Think of the last cold, dreary day when you and your bestie wore sweats all day, piled on the blankets, binge-watched a Netflix series, and talked about anything and everything. Perhaps it was when you had a game night or Friendsgiving with a few of your favorite people. Or when you went on a nature walk with your pup, appreciating the open space and chance to breathe fresh air.
There are many ways to hygge. But it’s not just about the activity; it’s about intention and attitude. Because hygge is part of Denmark’s culture, the people there hygge intentionally and consistently. They allow their schedules to include downtime and appreciate the restorative aspects of hanging out with friends and family. And they don’t just do this on special occasions. They do this weekly.
Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute and author of The Little Book of Hygge, highlights the central tenets of hygge:
- Get together with a few close friends in a trusting environment. Danes believe the ideal number of people to hygge with is three or four.
- Enjoy good food and drink. This can be simple food at home, a local coffeehouse, or a casual and relaxing restaurant.
- Disconnect from digital devices and distractions to savor the moment. This includes leaving work on time to be with family and friends and turning off emails and social media when you’re with people.
- Turn the lights down. Candles are an important aspect of creating a hygge environment.
- Dress comfortably. Now isn’t the time for suits and heels. Think soft sweats and thick, warm socks.
- Have a hygge spot at home where you can light candles, snuggle under a blanket, and drink hot tea, coffee, or cocoa.
While hygge is often practiced indoors, it doesn’t have to be, even in winter. A brisk walk or run outside, a snowball fight, or ice skating with friends are excellent ways to hygge. Activities like picnics, barbecues, canoeing, and camping are popular in warmer weather.
Although hygge can help improve happiness, it isn’t a substitute for psychological support. Still, with its multiple benefits, practicing hygge may help this winter be a little brighter, warmer, and more fulfilling!
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