Living a Cosy Life with Denmark’s Help

Denmark is a world-leader at something that not many people consider as having a world-leader: being cosy. The Danish concept of Hygge (pronounced like hooga) revolves around creating a sense of cosiness and contentment that can improve the quality of your life. How do you get hygge? By enjoying the simple things like reading a book indoors with a hot drink on a cold day. It isn’t a niche concept, but one that is known by every Dane – and an integral part of the Danish lifestyle. That being said, enjoying a life rich in hygge isn’t by any means exclusive to Denmark. Here’s how you can integrate it into yours.

Where Hygge Comes From

Hygge is so important to the Danes that it’s considered a vital part of their culture – and many hypothesize that it’s vital in helping Denmark be the second happiest country in the world. It wasn’t always such a clear part of Denmark’s culture however – it first appeared in the first half of the 19th century as a word derived from a Norwegian word for wellbeing. Before that, however, it can be traced back to the middle ages – there was an old Norse word that meant ‘protected from the outside world’, which gives hygge its roots. It is a way of life that has only made its way into other cultures in the past few years – 2016 in the UK and 2017 in the United States. The hygge aesthetic became revered across the world as it sparked through social media and created a viral storm. That storm has died down since, but hygge is still a great way of increasing your general wellbeing.

Feeling Hygge

You’re at your most hygge when you’re sitting at home and are utterly relaxed and comfortable. This can be aided with relaxing clothes like hyggebukser (a type of sweatpants) and thick-knitted woollen blankets, but is very related to your home’s atmosphere. To feel hygge, you need to create yourself a hygge area, whether that’s a thick and roomy windowsill or your old but comfortable armchair. Lighting candles and a fire is an important part of being hygge – in fact Danes burn more candles than any other people in the world, they’re far more important than lamps in creating a hygge atmosphere.

Being warm and cosy is obviously vital – so many Danes use thick blankets and design their houses with Sparvinduer double glazing. Comforting food, or hyggetrøstemad, like pastries, meatballs, coffee, cocoa, is important – but it’s about the feeling that you get from the food – if an ice-cream is the thing that makes you the most comfortable, that’s hygge too. In fact, hygge is easy in hot countries – picnics, barbecues, bonfires are all summer hygge activities. It’s all about informal and enjoyable time with family or close friends – those who you would need to bond with during the Viking era because your life depended on them.

There’s no agenda to a hygge time, but often in the evenings in Denmark, it includes a warming alcoholic drink like a beer, wine or even tankard of mead if you’re lucky enough to have a thriving apiarian community nearby. It’s an opportunity to sit down and take things slow.

How Not to Be Hygge

There are many misinterpretations about hygge. Perhaps the biggest one is the idea of being by oneself – being isolated by the time spent relaxing. Besides reading, this shouldn’t really be the case – things are best enjoyed when they’re shared with those dear to you. That could be sitting by the fire with a hot toddy and an engrossing conversation, but it could also be playing cards or a board game with a partner, friends or family.

Mobile phones are incredibly un-hygge. They take you away from the real world and translate the complex, interesting and cosy human relationships into pixels and emojis. There’s very little that’s cosy about a phone. However, it should be said that there are no set rules to hygge – it’s about finding the hygge that’s right for you – if that means spending time with your family but keeping in touch with friends by using a phone, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Commercialization: Not Very Hygge

When countries like the United Kingdom and the United States started to become interested in Hygge as a nation, there were many designers and manufacturers that tried to cash in on the newfound hygge awareness, to the real Danes’ annoyance. Books, incredibly expensive clothes and even very overpriced candles were flogged as a way for companies to exploit people’s desire for cosiness. Commercialized hygge products are not very hygge as they take the focus away from the informal, relaxed and accepting atmosphere and instead direct it to the world of branding.

Hygge clothes made a special footprint on western popular culture thanks to the Danish TV show The Killing, which became internationally recognized and proudly showed off Danish hygge sweaters with their unique and identifiable knitted patterns. In this case, it was a director and actor’s choice to find the comfiest and softest sweaters possible in order to conflict and contrast with the violence and darkness that the tv show uses in its plot.

Similarly to buying hygge products, there are many tourists looking to try the hygge experience. Though this is great for Denmark, it misses a key point of hygge –  which is very hard to fully achieve if you’re not surrounded by old friends you trust, as well as comfy and similar surroundings. The Denmark board of tourism recommends those looking for hygge to bring some friends and have a hearty dinner in a cosy and warm location like a wine cellar tavern. It’s very difficult for tourists to worm their way into an authentic Danish hygge moment, simply because it’s about being sheltered from anything that could make you feel uncomfortable and as a result it’s practiced authentically by insular groups that just want to enjoy each other in a cosy, clustered surrounding. It’s also something that tends to unfold instead of adhere to a schedule, but hygge can definitely be the focus of a social plan.

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