Let me set a scene for you: powdery, white snow blankets the city. The usual barrage of honking horns and loud passerby are missing from the streets. Inside, the radiator hisses and rattles as it breathes warm air into the room, and a fire crackles in the hearth. Something warm is bubbling on the stove. The lights are dimmed and candles flicker all around you, and in your hands you hold a cozy book and a cup of hot chocolate. You feel safe, and warm, and content. This is hygge.
That was more or less what my evening looked like yesterday. Okay, I don’t have a fireplace, so I played a video of one on my TV, and there definitely wasn’t anything bubbling on the stove (I ordered takeout again, sue me), but I think I had the general concept down.
Yesterday I read, The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking (amazing name). There’s a good chance you’re already familiar with this Danish concept of coziness, since it gained some global popularity a few years ago. The exact definition is difficult to pin down since it’s more of a feeling, but you’ve probably experienced it before. It’s candles, and warmth, and togetherness, and a coziness you feel in your very soul.
The great thing about hygge is anyone can do it anywhere. It doesn’t cost a specified amount of money, and you can do it with other people or alone. Here is “The Hygge Manifesto” as laid out in the book:
- Atmosphere: dim lighting, candles, cozy setting
- Presence: be here in the moment, no phones allowed
- Pleasure: indulge in a warm drink and something sweet or hearty (preferably home-cooked)
- Equality: help share tasks, like cooking, and don’t make the conversation all about you
- Gratitude: appreciate this moment
- Harmony: this is not the time to brag about your promotion or new car
- Comfort: let yourself truly unwind
- Truce: save the debates and controversial topics for another day
- Togetherness: reminisce about shared memories and build relationships
- Shelter: these are your people and this is your place. You’re safe here.
There are other great tips in the book, like what to eat (meals that take a long time to prepare are ideal) and what to wear (warm sweaters and wool socks). Reading it made me realize I’ve been a connoisseur of the hygge lifestyle for ages. For me, a warm drink + candles + a cozy book + rain = pure bliss.
It’s no wonder the people of Denmark are so happy, considering hygge is such a huge part of their national identity. It combines some of the most important elements necessary for happiness: social connection, gratitude, and savoring. They could have let the cold, dreary winters bring down their moods, but instead the Danes discovered a way to appreciate the joy and magic of the season.
In a time of increasing polarization, a global pandemic, and unprecedented obstacles, hygge can be especially useful. I loved the concept of hyggesnak, which doesn’t mean, as I initially assumed, the snacks you eat during hygge but “chitchat or cozy conversation that doesn’t touch on controversial issues.” Obviously, issues having to do with politics or social justice are very important, but I think people on both sides of these discussions can agree that they can be very draining. Taking a moment to breath and enjoy a quiet moment with friends might be just what the doctor ordered. Then, instead of a bunch of frazzled, high-strung people yelling at each other, we can have nuanced, productive conversations.
Last night, as I watched the snow float down from the sky and sipped my hot chocolate, I felt like I was on vacation or I’d been whisked away to some special place. I was actually surprised when I turned the lights back on and realized it was only Wednesday night. There’s a line I enjoy from the Memoirs of a Geisha movie where the main character talks about the art of turning habit into pleasure. To me, that’s what hygge is. It’s taking an ordinary day and transforming it into contentment and great memories.
From now on, I want to treat myself to a hygge moment at least once a week. For now, alone, but when the pandemic is over, with friends and family. I’m looking forward to the day when we can sit around in our warm sweaters and fuzzy socks, enjoy good conversation, and just be content to be with the people we love most.