When I dreamt of what my future husband would be like, I was right about a few things: he’d be devilishly witty, have the kindest eyes that match his heart, and that it would feel incredibly easy from day one. What I couldn’t have predicted was I’d fall in love with a man from Denmark, three months after I turned 30. And that he would teach me how to relax, how to tame my type-A, over-anxious personality, and how to ‘hygge.’
This Danish concept isn’t so much a trend as it’s been in America for a few years, but more so, a way of life. As I’ve learned throughout our relationship, hygge is the purposeful act of creating coziness, comfort and calm in your home and routine. The goal is to live in the moment, find contentment and well, lower your stress levels (hey, 2020!).
Here, a guide to how I’ve become quite the pro at hygge — and how you can adopt more of this Danish practice into your lifestyle in these pandemic times:
You’re probably mispronouncing it
And ahem, I still can’t get the annunciation perfect, even though I hear it all the time. While many non-Danish speakers say HI-GAH, it’s actually more like hoo-gah. (See an explainer video from VisitDenmark here so you can hear it for yourself.)
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According to VisitDenmark, ‘hygge’ came from the Old Norwegian language and translated to ‘well-being.’ Eventually, it started to show up in Danish literature in the late 18th century. Today though, it’s a household term that’s practiced throughout the year, during all occasions, creating many traditions for families. For example, in my fiance’s home, sipping tea and lighting candles is a typical afternoon activity and is classified as hygge.
(Psst: To learn more about hygge, consider this book, appropriately titled ‘The Little Book of Hygge’ that provides recommendations and guidelines for the Danish custom. My fiance has a copy of this short-and-sweet book, and we’ve given it as a gift to friends before.)
It’s all about the set-up
When my fiance talked about hygge, I was always confused: what is it exactly? What does it mean? How do I know if I’m doing hygge right? His answer took off much of the pressure since he explained it’s a loose concept, and everyone has their own way of integrating the hygge mood into their routines. The best way to describe it is to think about a rainy or snowy afternoon when you’re stuck inside, and you decide to pile layers of sweaters and blankets to get warm. You crack open a book or ask your partner or roommate to tackle a puzzle together. You pour something that brings you joy — whether it’s tea, coffee or wine — and you settle in for a quiet evening. Once the sun sets, you fill your space with warm lights or candles, and you enjoy the ambiance. That, in essence, is hygge.
However, in Denmark, the weather outside doesn’t have to be frightful to pass the time this way. And, it doesn’t have to last all day either. You can create a hygge atmosphere by turning down the lights and having a candlelight dinner on a Tuesday. Or, reading in bed with your partner, with a fireplace flickering. The central theme of hygge is all about staying in the present moment (device-free!) and being as cozy as possible. When you master those two, you’re on the right track.
So, why no iPhones or TVs during hygge? Though uncommon, my fiance says you could watch a movie together with someone while snuggling or sitting on your couch. However, most of the time, there’s no technology since it’s a distraction from whatever you’re doing, and it can cause you stress.
It can be about food, too
When you’re going through a stressful period, feeling a little sad or reminiscent, you likely turn to comfort foods. These boost your spirits, make you feel at ease, and remind you of happier times. So, it’s likely no surprise that part of practicing hygge is cooking up meals you love, with people you love. There is no particular cuisine that classifies as hygge and one that doesn’t since it’s all tied to personal happiness. For you, it could be your grandmother’s bean chili. For someone else, it could be overnight oats they had each morning as a child before school. Whatever the case, implementing some snacks into your hygge routine is a way to fulfill your tummy as much as your mind.
If you want to tap into nordic cuisine, there are some comforting options that you may enjoy and you can easily replicate in the states:
Smørrebrød: think of this as an open-faced sandwich, with one slice of bread. While Danes usually use rye or sourdough, you can pick whatever you’d like. Then, top asparagus and salmon, shrimps and hard-boiled eggs, or roast beef with cabbage.
Æblekage: if you love sweets more than anything, this is a must-try. It’s basically layers of apple sauce and Italian cookies, with a homemade whipped cream on top. Because I don’t eat dairy, my fiance will make a coconut milk cream for mine — and it’s delicious.
Fiske Frikadelle: when we first started dating, I Googled ‘Danish food’ and I found an easy recipe for fish cakes. I whipped them up for him, and it remains one of his favorite dishes I’ve made to date. You can use any type of fish (I went with cod), and you roll them into a patty. Then, serve with buttered potatoes and a cucumber salad. Yum!
Hygge can be outside
The first time I visited Denmark with my fiance, it was in the heat of summer, and I was amazed by the fact the sun didn’t set until 10 p.m. in the evening. Danes have developed ways to spend more time outdoors with so many hours of sunlight, creating the hygge experience in mother nature. This could be sitting around a fireplace, having a cup of tea under twinkle lights outside, reading a book in a hammock, and so on. The hope is to find a past-time that soothes your spirits, and for many, sunshine is helpful.
How to create hygge in your home
Danish design is revered around the world, though it’s not always easy — or um, budget-friendly! — to find it in the states. For beautiful, hand-painted pottery, browse Royal Copenhagen. For candleholders, look at by Lassen. For soft sweaters, check out Samsøe & Samsøe and Mads Nørgaard.
If you want to incorporate more of the hygge principles into your daily schedule, stock up on cozy, warm, products that ooze warmth. Here are my essentials:
A weighted blanket
Though any blanket and comforter will create hygge, this weighted option has been shown to reduce anxiety and stress feelings. Because it feels like cuddling with another person, your nerves relax, helping you to drift into your hygge state. (Psst: we wrote about this blanket here.)
Baloo Weighted Blanket, $169.00
A dreamy robe
What’s better than spending a lazy Saturday morning, wrapped up in a good book and a soft robe? This woven linen find is handmade in Portugal, and thanks to a unique washing process, it feels like velvet on the skin.
Serena and Lily, Positano Linen Robe, $98.00
When you think about lounging, you likely don’t think about being in tight jeans, crisp button-ups, and high-heels. Instead, you probably think about baggy, casual sweats and sweaters. These Buddha harem-style pants are made of 100 percent cotton and will have you feeling cozy from the moment you put them on. And if you want, you can take it a step further and buy the jumpsuit for a full hygge outfit.
Buddha Pants Womens Harem Pants Black Savannah Flair, $79.95
A soft shawl
Our living room is where most of our hygge happens. Because of this, we store ‘hygge’ goods in our coffee tables, including shawls and cardigans like this one. This pashmina style accessory is ultra-smooth, perfect for draping over your shoulders while you make progress on a puzzle.
Women’s One Size Soft Knit Nylon Giving Shawl Wrap, $60.45
A speaker for background noise
In our household, we are big fans of jazz, classical and lo-fi beats. We listen to playlists featuring this music genre while we’re cooking or lounging since they create the soothing background noise we need. Rather than having a bulky black speaker, these natural-wood Bluetooth ones modeled after an acoustic guitar create a richer resonance.
woodulisten Wooden Wireless Bluetooth Speakers, $59.00
A candle — or ten
One aspect of our hygge routine is that my fiance and I disagree on: I love musky candles, and he prefers unscented. In all fairness, the Danish tradition is to stock up on plain white, fragrance-free candles from IKEA, but since we’re a blended household, we have a mix of what I like and what he wants. For me, this candle from Lake & Skye is about as perfect as it gets, with white ambers and a soft, fresh rain scent. We usually will like one of these, along with up to 10 additional white ones to set the hygge mood.
Lake & Skye 11 11 Candle, $48.00
A lovely pair of socks
Think of the fluffiest, softest socks you own. They probably look like a boot slipper, have tracking pads and release plenty of fuzz. Those are the kind of socks you want for hygge! This cashmere pair is called ‘bliss’ — and that’s exactly what they feel like on your toes.
Figleaves ‘Bliss’ Cashmere Socks, $26.00
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