The first time I read the word hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) was in a short story by author Tiffany Reisz about a BDSM-practicing Catholic priest and his lover celebrating Christmas in a cabin in Maine. The priest referred to the cabin as "hygge" because it reminded him of his Danish grandfather's village.
Hygge is a Danish word that, according to the Observer, roughly translates into "coziness or hominess." Things that are categorized as hygge are candles, hot drinks, and comfort food, as well as blankets, oversized sweaters, warm socks, the outdoors, and a general feeling of togetherness.
Hygge has officially become a full-fledged lifestyle trend in the United States, thanks in large part to the success of The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well, by Chief Executive of the Happiness Research Institute Meik Wiking. The book outlines why the Danes are the happiest people in the world, according to the 2016 World Happiness Report, in part because they embrace coziness, intimacy, and "take pleasure from the presence of soothing things."
Yet truly defining hygge is a bit difficult, because it is more than just any one word. Hygge is a lifestyle, a feeling. It's the sound of a crackling fire and the feel of a warm mug in your hands. It's watching the snow fall and breathing in the smell of simmering stew.
I wanted to be able to capture some of this delight and perhaps the happiness, for myself. I've always been a worrier: am I a good enough writer? Am I a good enough mother, wife, friend, daughter? Am I good enough? Hygge seemed like a way to let all of that go and just enjoy myself, if only for a few hours. So I tried to incorporate hygge into various aspects of my lifestyle for a week.
Most of the things that are purported to create hygge are intended to instill comfort, coziness, and most importantly, a sense of "security". In this sense, I was already really good at practicing hygge. I love lighting candles (although I hardly ever buy them because they seem like a frivolous expense). I survive almost solely off of hot tea and comfort food (if it's not a carbohydrate, I'm not interested). And I work from home, so wearing warm socks pulled up to my knees, my partner's big wooly sweaters, and sitting on the couch with the nursing pillow as a laptop pillow and a blanket on my legs is my work wardrobe.
When I truly sat down and thought about it, I realized I was already hygge AF. But if that was the case, why didn't I feel hygge yet?
When I truly sat down and thought about it, I realized I was already hygge AF. But if that was the case, why didn't I feel hygge yet? I decided to incorporate hygge as a mindful practice into the three main areas of my life: myself, my relationship, and my parenting.
Part 1: Mindfulness And Hygge
While hygge is a mostly-indoor focused activity, it's still considered hygge to enjoy nature and get outside. So I started regularly going for walks. My walks weren't quite nature hikes, since we live in a metropolitan area, but walking is something we do often, since we'd rather not drive our car into the city. It stood to reason that to better enjoy the warmth of the indoors, I had to spend some time outdoors.
Walking through the snow is always a good workout, and it was definitely nice to come inside and enjoy a hot beverage but the air was also cold and hurt my face and since we walk most places anyway, I didn't feel like I was having an overly new experience. When I did come back inside, I was happy to be able to enjoy the coziness of a warm blanket and cup of tea, but I was also happy to be able to get back to work.
Part 2: Getting Hygge With Home Decor
Fact: Danes burn more candles than any other nationality in the world. According to Wiking, Danes burn candles at home, in the classroom, and even at work; candles are insta-hygge.
To me, candles have always felt like a bit of a frivolous expense, like I'm lighting my money on fire and watching it burn.
I lit at least one candle in my house every day for a week and I must say, it did increase the sense of warmth and atmosphere in my home. My partner liked the candles, too, which was a plus because usually scented candles give him a headache. My daughter thought the flickering flame was cool to watch, but I quickly put the kibosh on this pastime when she started trying to grab it. I even lit a candle while I worked, but I didn't find that it did anything to enhance my work experience. This might not sound super hygge, but to me candles have always felt like a bit of a frivolous expense, like I'm lighting my money on fire and watching it burn.
Part 4: Bringing Hygge Into My Marriage
One of the main tenets of hygge is togetherness. I was totally OK with this, as I am mildly obsessed with my partner and would literally spend all day, every day with him if I was given the opportunity. My partner was happy for the opportunity to spend more down-time together as well.
We made hot chocolate with marshmallows, pulled out the blankets and warm socks, and read books while holding hands.
Normally on weeknights, after the baby is in bed, we'll catch up with each other and then watch an episode or two on Netflix. But this time, we turned off the TV, put our phones down, and cuddled on the couch. We made hot chocolate with marshmallows, pulled out the blankets and warm socks, and read books while holding hands.
To be perfectly honest, it was wonderful, but I think my partner might have enjoyed it more than I did. I found myself getting bored. That might be a horrible thing to admit about spending quality time with my partner, but I couldn't help but feel that even though I never got time to just sit and read, I could be using the time to get work done.
In the spirit of togetherness, in The Little Book of Hygge Wiking advises that couples not just eat and drink together, but that they prepare food together, as well. This is something that my partner and I love to do. We often devote our weekend evenings to cooking together and enjoying the fruits of our labor. We found a recipe for vegetarian stew and splurged on our favorite bottle of wine. We also bought a chocolate cake because neither of us had the time to make one. Our evening was spent chopping vegetables, taste-testing, and sipping wine, accompanied by soft music and candlelight.
Part 5: Being A Hygge Mommy
Because my daughter is fairly young, and thus can't fully appreciate trendy Danish lifestyle aesthetics, I thought that incorporating the practice of hygge into my parenting style would be kind of impossible. But I tried it, anyway. I made a bed on our living room floor made of blankets and pillows. I turned the TV off, hid my phone, lit a candle out of reach of my daughter's grabby hands, and set out books for us to read. I thought this would be the perfect way to pratcice hygge with my toddler, who loves books, being read to, and "reading" them herself. I put my daughter in her most hyggelig (the adjective form of hygge) knit sweater and prepared to relax with her.
My daughter wanted nothing to do with hygge. She didn't want to read, she wanted to bang blocks together. She didn't want to eat, she wanted to throw Cheerios and then crush them beneath her feet.
Then I remembered that toddlers are the type of people who can be counted upon to take any you plans you might have and s**t on them. My daughter wanted nothing to do with hygge. She didn't want to read, she wanted to bang blocks together. She didn't want to eat, she wanted to throw Cheerios and then crush them beneath her feet. She did want to laze around on the pillows and blankets, albeit for about ten seconds. But it was a nice ten seconds.
For a moment, I thought I'd failed at hygge parenting, until I reminded myself what hygge is supposed to feel like: comfort, coziness; togetherness, security. If my daughter felt comfortable and safe enough to be her loud, sometimes destructive, self, than maybe it wasn't such a failure after all.
My partner and I completed our hygge-ic parenting with an outdoor adventure. Living in a city makes getting back to nature a little difficult, but we did enjoy an afternoon of pulling our daughter in a sled. Then we went back inside, drank hot chocolate, and cuddled.
During this experiment, I couldn't figure out how I had been missing out on the hygge feeling, as I'd been unconsciously practicing hygge for quite some time. I'd definitely say that I seek out opportunities to feel cozy, comfortable, and secure in the company of my family and friends as much as possible, and I find the concept of togetherness commendable in itself. But I think part of my problem with the idea of hygge is that it's inherently, well, a bit classist. Wiking claims Danes are the happiest people on the planet, but he doesn't seem to take into account a few socioeconomic factors many non-Danes experience that could be considered a hindrance to their hygge.
Take, for instance, the minimum wage in Denmark: it hovers around $20 per hour and Danish workers' rights are well protected via strong and active unions, according to Business Insider. Education and health care is free, child care is subsidized, and according to a Gallup poll, Danes also feel they have a high degree of social support from family and friends. All of these are factors that might contribute to a person's overall happiness and their ability to practice some mighty fine hygge.
Let's be real: hygge is not a lifestyle trend so much as it's a prescription to laze around in comfy clothes, eat good food and hang out with friends.
While I wouldn't classify my own socioeconomic situation as severely limited, I do frequently worry about money, work, parenting, my relationship, and life in general, and no amount of hot chocolate or nature walks or candles will stop that. But maybe that's an issue that has less to do with myself and more to do with a predominantly North American mentality that can't stop going, or worrying, or thinking about what's next.
Overall, I'm a bit underwhelmed by the concept of hygge. It seems at best narrow-minded and at worst self-indulgent. (Let's be real: it's not a lifestyle trend so much as it's a prescription to laze around in comfy clothes, eat good food and hang out with friends.) But I think what the Danes get right is the concept of unplugging from daily life, or the idea that there is no better time than the present to sit back, relax, and enjoy. And even if I don't quite get hygge, I think that aspect of the lifestyle is something I will continue to try to cultivate. Practice makes perfect; or, at the very least, it will make me a little less uptight.