In The Moment How to Hygge: The Danish Secret to Weathering Winter

by Stacy Suaya | March 08, 2019

Fuzzy slippers? Check. Friends gathered around a candle lit table? Yep. Soup bubbling on the stove? Of course. It's these warm-you-to-the-core comforts that signal the height of hygge.

Hygge (pronounced hue-gah) is a Danish word (by way of the Norwegians) that translates to a feeling of coziness and contentment, and it's the Scandinavian secret to enjoying life, particularly during those long, chilly winters.

So what exactly is hygge?

According to Jeppe Trolle Linnet, a Danish anthropologist with a Ph.D. in consumer culture and hygge, you can’t get through a day as a Dane without using the word. Linnet says that if you feel an immediate sense of pleasure in a particular social or physical situation, you're experiencing hygge. Bronte Aurell, author of Scandikitchen: The Essence of Hygge, says it simply means to appreciate the moment you’re in, while you’re in it.

In a book on mindfulness, a Buddhist monk wrote that one should drink tea as slowly and reverently as the earth revolves on its axis. For Rocky Walls, the filmmaker behind the 2018 documentary Finding Hygge, this idea perfectly explains this approach to life. Walls discovered this mood-boosting ethos in 2016 during a trip to the Danish capital of Copenhagen, where he saw first-hand how the Danes took everyday moments and turned them into joyous ones — finding happiness even during the country's famously harsh winters.

In that spirit, here is some guidance from hygge adopters and experts on making winter a season of growth — from improving your space to saving money and investing in yourself.

How to hygge at home

Winters in Scandinavia are particularly dark and cold, so bringing elements of warmth indoors is imperative, and lighting is key to setting that hygge mood. Walls says LED lights with a soft and warm glow are his go-to, and he eschews anything labeled “daylight” or “blue.”

Candles are also very hyggeling (hygge-friendly), as are plush blankets. For Alexandra Gove, the co-owner of Hygge Life, a home design store in Vail, CO, it's also important that each room in the house reflect what you love and enjoy. She likes decorative pieces that spark memories or warm feelings, and paint colors that facilitate rest and rejuvenation. In the living room, she suggests arranging the seating in a way that encourages conversation, rather than facing a TV.

Gove favors soft, warm textures, and natural materials such as wood, plants or glass, rather than plastic. She recommends draping sheepskin throws on dining chairs and she keeps a basket of slippers at her front door — a fuzzy sensory experience for guests upon arrival.

Hygge also has an important place in the kitchen. How could a hot mug of cocoa on a cold day not elicit joy? Even dishes can embody this spirit. “There’s something very hyggeling about a bowl itself,” says Gove. She likes to fill them with healthy and warming ingredients, and she offers mismatched ceramic bowls to dinner guests, allowing everyone to choose his or her favorite hue.

Hygge in the kitchen is also about cooking together. Linnet suggests having step stools in the kitchen for kids, so they can help and be with you. Walls has warmed up to the slow practice of spending weekend days making hearty soups and meat stews (he boosts the nutrition by adding seasonal root vegetables halfway through). He likes how the scent of the simmering dishes fills his whole home.

If you feel an immediate sense of pleasure in a particular social or physical situation, you're experiencing hygge.
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Apply hygge to your spending habits

Hygge is available to everyone, at every budget, because at its core the concept is all about mindfulness. As that relates to your finances, it's about being aware of and taking stock of what you have and what you truly need. Often, it means having less so you can do — or be — more. 

Tove Maren Stakkestad, a Danish-American mother of four who lives in Seattle, WA, is a big fan of a clutter-free home. Which, she says, gives us the “mental space” needed to hygge without thinking about what needs to be cleaned or dealt with. She suggests that you can be purposeful when clearing space. For example, "You may even be able to sell your old baseball card collection that just collected dust. Take that money and set it aside for a specific goal," says Stakkestad.

Walls agrees, encouraging people to also stop and think before making a purchase. Ask yourself, “Am I investing in my well-being and adding value to my life?” He cautions against buying anything name-brand and buying only the things you authentically love.

Both Stakkestad and Gove note that hygge isn’t about money, but it is about not stressing about money. Instead, Stakkestad suggests it's about being strategic. "Shop for a deal, wait for a sale, collect enough credit card points — whatever it is, enjoy the process. In the end, you'll appreciate your purchase more," she says.

When you do make a purchase, Gove advocates for taking pleasure in what you do buy. “There is no guilt in hygge,” she says.

young woman with brown hair snuggles under a thick pink chunky knitted blanket

Remember: the best things in life are free

Another budget-friendly aspect of hygge is that it is about experiences and emotional connections, rather than “things.” One of Aurell’s most hyggeling moments last year was in a tent with her two kids, eating potato chips, listening to the rain and talking about life. “It was magical and free,” she fondly recalls.

Stakkestad, who grew up in Denmark, recalls a childhood pact she made with her dad: they had a map and vowed to walk on every street in town. The father-daughter duo ended up checking out every single path and alleyway, and during those strolls she would tell him about school, boys, friends and every teenage-girl thought she had. In turn, he would tell her about his own teenage years and life in America. “He passed away 11 years ago and, to this day, I remember the hygge moments we shared and am so thankful that we both took the time for each other.”

It is about experiences and emotional connections, rather than 'things.'
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5 hygge tips from the experts

1. Go analog

“Have a cookbook stand on your kitchen counter, and when you need a recipe, use the cookbook instead of going straight to the internet on your phone.” – Alexandra Gove

2. Get better sleep

“Be mindful of your quality of sleep. Instead of watching TV or working on your laptop in bed before falling asleep, try reading a good book.” – Tove Maren Stakkestad

3. Be generous

“If you’re a business owner, instead of having a no-fail culture, which is very anti-hygge, allow people to be human and make mistakes. That’s much more hygge.” – Jeppe Trolle Linnet

4. Slow down

“Instead of rushing on your way to work, leave 15 minutes early and walk through the park, or use that 15 minutes to sit in a café and catch up with a friend.” – Bronte Aurell

5. Love what you have

“Take something you already enjoy, and simply acknowledge it.” – Rocky Walls

a man and a woman walk in the snow with a beam of sunlight coming through the trees

It has been speculated that the word hygge originally came from the Norwegian word for "hug," which makes for a great analogy. Bottom line: if what you're doing feels warm and comforting, you're probably well on your way to a more hyggeling life.

Stacy Suaya

recently savored two hours making lasagna and a fruit tart — and another hour enjoying it with a friend. The Los Angeles-based writer’s work has appeared in The New York Times Styles, The New York Times T Magazine, Los Angeles Times, C Magazine and Robb Report.