Since making it to the Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year shortlist in 2016, the Danish “hygge” [ hue-guh] lifestyle struck a more global impact than it had over the past two hundred years.
Every year, new “hygge” books spring up on bookshelves and fresh translations try to convey its magic air to non-Danish ears.
With definitions ranging from the dry-cut academic “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being” to the enticing “cultural concept and value of warm, happy coziness and togetherness”, the hygge lifestyle is like a breath of fresh air in the digital age where “warmth, coziness, and togetherness” are precisely what we’re missing (out on) most.
Come to think of it, there are few countries in the world with a longer, colder and darker fall/winter season than the Scandinavian countries, including Denmark.
Sure, some of it has to do with the great economics and the fact that they don’t have scandalous impeachments or Brexits on their hands. Most of it though has to do with the culture and lifestyle. But then, who knows, perhaps happiness reaches into all corners of the Danish land, like the fairy-tales of Hans Christian Andersen?
For the rest of us, loving the dark and rainy days of fall-winter doesn’t mean shutting ourselves up in a dungeon (or an office in lieu of such). It does mean creating (and actually scheduling) some endearing rituals for your friends, family, or just yourself (this is perfectly hygge too).
Here are eight “rainy-day” rituals to give yourself a boost in endorphins at any given moment:
- Design/update a favorite reading nook. Nothing expensive — the only pre-requisite is a fresh dose of coziness. A new woolen throw or a few fluffy pillows to deliberately over-stuff your couch, plus scented tea-lights on the table (candles are a hygge must-have) are all you need to start appreciating the warmth of a fall evening when time blissfully stands still.
- Mix a new hot drink. I recently made fantastic and super-simple Pumpkin Spice Latte minus the pumpkin (didn’t have that at home). The aroma of milk boiled with spices like cinnamon sticks, clove, ginger, and nutmeg and then mixed into the espresso was invigorating enough to spend the darkest of winters at home and totally good enough to skip Starbucks.
- Do a get-together with friends in an atmospheric cafe you’d always wanted to go to (not Starbucks). Invite just the girls/guys for an evening devoted to warm conversation or get together with the friends who you’ve dreamed of catching up with outside Facebook.
- Do a fairy-tale night with your kids. Hans Christian Andersen’s tales are the timeless classic, incredibly touching reading for the kids and philosophical for the adults. So is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery.
- Buy a whole new recipe book. Take a break off social media and cook up a very special something from a very real cookbook. My latest favorite was Alsatian Apple Pie with a personal twist (sliced almonds on top).
- Order the books you’ve been meaning to read since your last New Year’s resolutions. Cuddle with them in that pillowed nook, steaming spiced latte in hand. My own latest choice fell on the heartbreaking story of young neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi, in his poignant story of the beauty of fleeting life, When Breath Becomes Air.
- Research a vacation destination for your next trip, solo or with family. Make the research and prep a really exciting process. The trip can be as close as 50 miles out of town or as far as 5000 miles away from home. Get happy about seeing more of your state, country, or world — right this evening.
- Follow a real, actionable strategy for whatever it is you always wanted to do but never found the time for. Make writing a daily habit, enroll in a free online course from a school like Yale, think about a career shift, or get inspired to start a healthy lifestyle!
In the times when slowing down is becoming so out of reach and the digital hype can swallow us up unless we really go out and schedule our deepest, most humane needs, it’s hardly surprising how viral of a concept hygge has become.
With all that, it’s important to remember — hygge isn’t about what we do, but how we do it.
Lighting a candle and cuddling in a throw is great, but if you’re still thinking about that annoying co-worker, a stuck project, or sticking your tongue out at your boss (figuratively speaking), you won’t get much hygge out of that. Let go of all that for the time you devote to your happiness.
Hygge is a lifestyle culture that shows us just how important together time with loved ones, family, and our own selves are, and how little (in material terms) it takes to start nurturing and protecting it.
However we define this tricky-to-pronounce word, the best thing about hygge is its reminder that happiness is something money can never buy — or take from us.
Angela Yurchenko is a business journalist and classical musician. In her personal writing, she shares stories of the human experience through the lens of emotional intelligence, philosophy, arts & culture. Find more of Angela’s writing on Medium and on her blog, Birdsong.
Image courtesy of cottonbro.