If you’ve picked up a design magazine in the past couple of years or gone anywhere near Pinterest, you’ve probably encountered the Danish word “hygge.” Hygge has had a serious movement in the interior world as of late, even if just for the internet to argue over the correct pronunciation of the word. (It’s apparently pronounced “HUE-guh,” in case you’re interested.)
So, what is hygge?
It’s not the name of a piece of Ikea furniture, although it sure looks like it. According to the Oxford Dictionary, hygge is “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.”
You know when you’re curled up on a delightfully squishy sofa wrapped in a chunky knit blanket with a loved one drinking hot tea and watching candlelight flicker while it’s brisk and frosty outside? That’s hygge. It’s an almost too-picture-perfect moment you’d see captured on a Christmas card.
Hygge is tactile and touchable but intangible. It appeals to the senses, it wraps us physically and metaphorically in comfort, it’s peaceful and content. It’s speculated that the word “hygge” might have the same origin as the word “hug.” And that certainly would be appropriate — everything about living hygge is like being surrounded in a giant hug.
Meik Wiking, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen (yes, that’s a real place, one I imagine is a bit like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory), states that hygge is such an important element of being Danish that it’s considered, “a defining feature of our cultural identity and an integral part of the national DNA. In other words, what freedom is to Americans…hygge is to Danes.”
Danes, and Canadians. Being from Canada and having spent 25 of my 33 winters there, I get hygge. The snow sometimes seems to last for-ev-er. The novelty of frosty weather wears off after a couple of cold months, and it can get pretty darn dreary once Christmas passes, then Valentine’s Day, then Easter. When you think it can’t possibly hang on any longer, there’s still snow on the ground! (And it’s rather slushy and depressingly brown snow by this point, not exactly the sparkling winter wonderland you may be picturing.)
The need for wintertime hygge at home is real in cold climates and can dramatically affect your overall well-being. I’ve always believed in the value that living in a feel-good space brings to quality of life, and a hygge home is a major pick-me-up to the senses in a season where it’s all too easy to get totally bummed out by the dreary weather.
Sure, freezing cold Denmark and Canada are hot for hygge. It’s a design trend I see sticking around for a while, not just for its aesthetic and sensory appeal but for its purely practical ability to uplift spirits. But what about Waco? It’s not like we’re buried under six feet of snow here aching for cozy comforts to counteract the relentless chill.
While I write this, it’s 65 degrees out, there’s a fresh breeze coming through my office window, and I’m wearing a sleeveless tank top. So yeah, winter here isn’t that hard, and hygge-ing under a fuzzy blanket in front of a fireplace doesn’t have as big of an appeal during our milder winters.
Even though Central Texas doesn’t have quite the same need for hygge, there are certainly elements of the hygge lifestyle we can embrace this holiday season to create the equivalent of a hug at home. On the surface, hygge looks like a collection of things to add to a house: thick blankets, plush pillows, twinkling candles, rich textures. Hygge appears to be easy to acquire with a few quick clicks on your favorite shopping sites.
But here’s the good thing (or possibly bad thing, depending on how you look at it): creating a hygge feel at home has nothing to do with acquiring specific stuff. Alex Beauchamp, author of hyggehouse.com, notes that hygge “doesn’t require learning ‘how to,’ adopting it as a lifestyle or buying anything. It’s not a thing and anyone telling you different either doesn’t understand it or is literally trying to sell you something that has nothing to do with the concept. You can’t buy a ‘hygge living room’ and there’s no ‘hygge foods’ to eat. Hygge literally only requires consciousness, a certain slowness and the ability to not just be present but recognize and enjoy the present. That’s why so many people distill ‘hygge’ down to being a ‘feeling’ – because if you don’t feel hygge, you probably aren’t using the word right.”
So there you go. My best decorating tip this season? Slow down. Get cozy. Appreciate what you have. You’ve already got hygge — you just need to recognize it and be present with it.
We’ve all heard that Danes are some of the happiest people in the world. Who knows if creating a little hygge in the home has anything to do with that?