Hygge (which in Danish is a noun, a verb and an adjective) is a universal impulse we can all benefit from honoring, says Louisa Thomsen Brits, author of The Book of Hygge. You can listen to Thomsen Brits discuss what we can all learn from the Danes here:
The literal English definition of hygge is “belonging-togetherness”, Thomsen Brits says. Essentially it's a feeling of being warm, safe and sheltered that is both psychological and physical.
The concept originated in 19th-century Denmark, when what had been a large empire lost a lot of territory. To counteract mourning for the loss of outward space, Danish people were encouraged to appreciate the beauty of smallness and enclosure.
Last year it was named one of the words of the year by both the Collins and Oxford dictionaries. The word has also been hijacked by marketers and advertisers as a handy buzzword that appeals to our longing for warmth, peace and stability, says Thomsen Brits. This commercialization drives her crazy, she says.
“Hygge really is facilitated by small means. You don't need to go out and buy a lot of stuff in order to hygge ... Embedded in hygge is a disdain for hierarchy and conspicuous consumption. Maybe it's time for a shift away from stuff, and also our preoccupation with productivity, to a new paradigm where we focus less on the relentless pursuit of happiness and material goods and maybe more on contentment and interconnectedness.”
Hygge is an experience of belonging to the moment which can be experienced alone or with other people, Thomsen Brits explains. Sitting around a warm fire with group of friends, or even on your own with a cup of tea or a glass of wine can be “hygge-litic”.
“It's about giving value to the ordinary things we do – whether that's putting a chair outside to sit in the sun, or singing in a choir, or holding hands in the back of a cinema …
"I suppose hygge is really what we invest the moment with, and how we pay attention to the small details and to the privileges of safety … a brief restorative pause and a moment to relax, really that's all it is.”
To hygge alone, Thomsen Brits suggests taking a candlelit bath, getting into bed with a book or watching a film. “Or look for the cats. Cats are a source of deep comfort. They're very hygge-litic creatures.”
If you don't have a cat on hand? Simply slow down for a bit.
“Put distractions and cares aside just for a moment and make time for yourself and each other. Create a circle of warmth and a point of focus – whether that's a pot of tea or a bottle of wine or a board game or a pack of cards – and come to your senses, think about how you're touched by everything around you … Recognize that this precious moment will pass, and simply celebrate it.”