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How to Hygge: A Beginner’s Guide

by Alexandra Amarotico

When I first moved to Denmark nearly 15 years ago, I quickly noticed that despite the dark, dreary weather, there was an undeniable feeling of warmth, cheer, and gratitude throughout the country. The Danes around me had cracked the code to surviving — and thriving — Northern winters. But how? Enter: hygge.

What *is* hygge? The Danish word (that gives a name and recognition to the small joys in life) has risen to newfound popularity in recent years — and for good reason. Hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) can’t be translated into English directly, but comes closest to our definition for the word cozy: giving a feeling of comfort, warmth, and relaxation. All of these are feelings that we could use more of any day of the year — but especially during the chilly, seemingly endless drudge of winter.

The great news is, you don’t need to live in Scandinavia (or buy the entire IKEA catalog!) in order to infuse hygge into your life and increase your experience of joy every day. All you need is an open mind and, okay, maybe a few candles! In my new book, The Secret Joy of Hygge, I share everything you need to know about hygge in order to amplify the joy in your life — day by day — no matter where you live. Below are a few of my favorite ways you can infuse hygge into your daily life (without hopping the next flight to Copenhagen!).

SELF CARE

Like hygge, the concept of self-care is not a new one. Their recent parallel ride to fame makes sense—after all, a Sunday evening at home with a face mask and Netflix could easily be described as both self-care *and* hygge. While the terms are not interchangeable, most self-care activities could be described as hyggelige, and practicing self-care is an important part of a hygge life. Think of things you do and/or buy solely because they make your mind and body feel happier and healthier. These can be considered forms of self-care, and small adjustments can make them all the more hyggelige.

Massages for example, are a wonderfully hygge way to treat yourself and de-stress, and can truly make a difference in your mental and physical health. Try one next time you’ve had a tough week or are feeling particularly tense. If you want to make your spa experience even more hygge, invite a friend to join you. Danes consider socializing while relaxing to be very hygge, so instead of brunch or happy hour with friends consider signing up for massages at the same time. It’s sure to be both hyggelig and fun for both of you — and you can follow up with a latte and hyggelig conversation to boot!

Another hygge way to practice self-care? Spend a Sunday evening at home with no agenda other than to relax. Watch your favorite feel-good movie or read a new book. Bonus points if you light a few candles, put on a face mask, or pour yourself a cup of tea or a glass of wine. Goodbye #SundayScaries!

HYGGE AT HOME

Home is where the concept of hygge truly shines. Above all else, hygge homes are relaxed and personal — they don’t feel precious or formal, and they welcome you to sit down and make yourself comfortable. Hygge homes do not “save the good china for the queen”, so to speak. In fact, they likely don’t have any good china — just simple dishware that is beloved and used often!

To make your home feel more hygge, a great place to start is with your lighting, since it can transform everything from how colors appear to how well you sleep. Candlelight is especially hygge (on average, Danes actually burn around 13 pounds of candles per year). Incorporate candles throughout your home — from your dining and coffee tables to your bedroom and bathroom — and don’t forget to actually light them for a more hygge atmosphere! Also, opening your curtains to let in natural sunlight whenever possible can help your home feel brighter, warmer, and more inviting.

How your furniture feels is also important for a hygge home. Pieces that marry comfort and function will help you and any guests relax. Look for couches that are cozy and soft, but not precious. Incorporate poufs or ottomans in your living room that invite you to put your feet up. Add barstools to your kitchen so you can spend time with family or guests while cooking. Basically, look for furniture that makes your space more friendly and inviting — and then add a good dose of pillows and blankets to top things off. They’ll not only add actual comfort, but having them readily available also makes getting into a hygge state of mind easy at the end of a long day.

HOSTING GUESTS

These days, it’s easy to become friends with someone without ever seeing the inside of their home. We meet at new restaurants, catch afternoon movies, and say cheers at happy hours long before we see what each other’s living rooms look like or discover how we organize our bookshelves (by color? by size? by genre?).

We forgo this experience for many reasons. For example, we don’t want to be judged, we don’t think we can cook, or we think our homes are too small or too messy. But playing host(ess) doesn’t need to be intimidating; it’s an incredibly hygge experience that you can look forward to. All you need is a warm smile, a cool playlist, and hot appetizers (you can never go wrong with something from Trader Joe’s).

If you’re new to hosting, you can always start small. Invite just one or two close friends. Time the invitation around the return of your favorite TV show or the celebration of someone’s promotion at work. Ask your guests to bring drinks to share. Order pizza from your favorite restaurant (bonus points if you sprinkle torn basil leaves on top or set out freshly grated Parmesan). Let Pandora or Spotify set the tone. Eat around the table or have an indoor picnic; the more pillows, the better. Let your friends help with the dishes when they ask, and send them home with leftovers. Most importantly, enjoy yourself. Because the most hygge part of hosting is seeing your friends make themselves at home in the space you call home.

A HYGGE MIND-SET

We live in an interesting time. With the rise of social media, many people feel an expectation to develop a personal brand and many of us work side jobs in addition to our full-time careers. Every weekend, #SundayScaries trends on Twitter as people brace themselves to return to busy workweeks and ever-increasing pressure to innovate and surpass goals. Sometimes it can simply feel overwhelming.

If you’re going through a hard day, sometimes it helps to take a hyggelig approach and look for the good in your experience. Is there a good side to the problem you’re having? What are you grateful for in this moment? When a day is particularly tough and you have trouble answering that question, you can often say, at the very least, “I learned a lot today.” Making even that statement can sometimes help you feel better. Did you handle a meeting that went poorly with grace or cheer up a friend who was having a hard day as well? Taking on a hygge mind-set and thinking, “I get to do this,” instead of, “I have to do this,” can help make harder days a bit brighter.

GO FORTH AND HYGGE

As you can see, while the pronunciation of hygge may seem daunting, the feeling it represents is quite the opposite. By giving a name and recognition to the small joys in life, it can make even the most mundane moments feel warmer and more special — something we could all benefit from. See you at Chillhouse for a warm drink and a massage — it will be so hyggeligt!

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Feature Image via Camille Shaw

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