The shortest day has been and gone, but as winter keeps a firm grip on the weather, spring still seems far away. If you, like many, are already over the cold days and long nights, it might be time for a change of approach. It could be time to do like the Danes and discover the joys of winter.
In New Zealand, we would refer to it as nesting or being cosy, but in Denmark it has a name – hygge. Pronounced “hoo-guh”, this word has no direct translation from Danish into English because it’s one of those unique Scandinavian words used to describe a state of being that is unique to that country.
The word hygge actually comes from a Norwegian word meaning “wellbeing” and first appeared in Danish writing in the 18th century. In short, to hygge is to take genuine pleasure in making ordinary, everyday moments more meaningful, beautiful or special.
Words that have been offered up to describe it are cosiness, charm, happiness, contentedness, security, familiarity, comfort, reassurance, kinship and simpleness. And writers have attempted to describe it as “the art of creating intimacy”, “cosiness of the soul” and “cocoa by candlelight”.
The CEO of Copenhagen’s Happiness Research Institute once wrote: “Hygge is in Danish cultural DNA.” And in 2016, Denmark was once again ranked No 1 in The World Happiness Report.
Danes work 37-hour weeks and have five weeks holiday a year, but hygge is also thought to be a big factor in creating happiness in their lives.
Last winter the hygge trend overtook Britain as the English looked north to find that the Danes had made an art out of surviving their long dark winters by immersing themselves in blankets, hot chocolate, wood fires and candlelight.
In bookshops, guides to hygge started selling out and now hygge is simply the must-have lifestyle for winter warriors all over the world.
If you’d like to succumb to the cold, rather than just complaining about it, and make your winter a bit happier, then here is the definitive guide on how to hygge.
1 Create a sanctuary
Hygge is all about mood, so you need to make a space in your home where you can collapse into soft cushions and plush blankets.
Try to use natural fabrics, as the Scandinavians do – merino wool and cashmere are good picks – and go for soft pastels such as pale blues, camel and creams, which all blend together and have a relaxing effect.
Co-ordinate these with a soft rug and pale wood coffee table all positioned around a fireplace. If you’re lucky enough to have a wood burner you are all set to hygge, but if you use a heater you can still make this the cosy centre of your room.
Bring in elements of nature from outside, with fresh flowers in jam jars and table decorations made from bark, leaves, berries and pine cones or shells and driftwood from the beach; and snap up some hand-thrown pottery at op shops to finish off the connection to nature.
Who knows, you might even snaffle a valuable collector’s item in the process.
2 Make the most of your fire
It’s not just about keeping warm – it’s about creating the hygge look. If you have a wood-burning fire, make the most of it by stacking your logs side-on beside it, showing off the cut edge of the wood.
Arrange baskets of pine cones and drip each cone with essential oil to scent the room; when you throw one on the fire the scent will be intensified. See below for essential oil suggestions. For special occasions have twigs of rosemary or other woody herbs to throw on the fire to give the room a lovely fragrance as the herbs burn.
Get into the habit of having your fire stacked and ready to light when you leave the house in the morning, so that when you walk in the door in the dark and cold it just takes a match to get it going and warm the room.
3 Get into candles
We all know that candlelight makes for a romantic atmosphere but the reason Danes are Europe’s biggest consumers of candles, burning through about 6kg per person every year, is because of hygge. Every Danish household has a stock of candles that is never allowed to run out.
Once you light a candle, you are guaranteed instant hygge. Place them around your home – on the dinner table, surrounding the fireplace, on the coffee table.
You can’t have too many – the more the better. And if you’re braving the outside because perhaps you have an outdoor fire, make sure you place lots of candles out there too.
4 Use essential oils
Make use of nature’s natural oils to create a mood in your hygge haven.
Invest in an oil diffuser or simply drip the oils onto a melting candle. Good essential oils to use are herb, spice and wood oils like sandalwood, cedarwood, clove, cinnamon, lavender, lemon balm or rosemary. Use them on their own or mix some together for a scent you like.
5 Get some decent slippers or at least a pair of big woollen socks
In Scandinavia people take off their outdoor shoes when they get home and change into slippers at the front door, especially very stylish ones made from felt. Have a look at Glerups and Mahabis online to get an idea.
Or you can simply get a good pair of handmade woollen socks just for your hygge feet or, best of all, knit yourself some “TV slippers” like Grandma made you when you were a kid.
Get into the habit of changing into them the minute you step inside the front door to create instant hygge.
6 Pyjamas, onesies, shawls and more shawls
Pyjamas aren’t just for bed. To really appreciate hygge you must have the softest, most comfortable, cosy pair of pyjamas, loungewear or even onesies you can find.
It’s best if they are made from 100 per cent natural fabric and – here’s the secret – make sure they are a size too big so you have room to move. Invest in two pairs so you always have a clean pair to put on.
Also make sure you have an inviting pile of colour co-ordinated, warm shawls and throws to be used for extra cosiness and to offer to your visitors if they are a bit chilly.
7 Learn how to make a proper hot chocolate or mulled wine
Once you are dressed, warm and cosy, and sitting in front of your sweet-smelling fire, you need a nice hot cup of something soothing to complete the mood.
Hot chocolate will do it or a mug of spiced mulled wine or glogg, as it is called in Sweden, served in a lovely pottery mug.
For something a bit more substantial, think ginger cake, fondue or pumpkin soup with homemade bread.
8 Start baking
There is nothing quite as hygge as the smell of freshly baked bread or, more traditionally, cinnamon rolls, so make a batch while the fire is warming up the room.
9 What to do while you hygge
Traditionally you do nothing except stare at the flickering flames, sip your hot chocolate and talk to each other. Mobile devices are banned and don’t even think of watching TV.
That’s right, not even one of the popular Scandinavian “Nordic noir” crime shows. It’s all about soaking up the atmosphere and sharing communal cosy time.
You can listen to music and/or play board games with your friends. If you’re having a solo hygge session then curling up on the sofa with a good book – preferably a Scandi thriller by Stieg Larsson or Jo Nesbo – is a great idea.
10 Hygge handcraft
Part of the joy of hygge is getting back to basics by making something from scratch with your hands. Many people who are into hygge are also getting back into knitting and sewing comfortable hats, slippers or even a jumper over the winter. If you’re not a knitter, try some embroidery, tapestry or mending.