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Hygge For The Holidays: How To Perfect The Danish Art Of Cosiness

You too can be as happy as a candlelit Dane.
All the elements of hygge encapsulated: blanket, fireplace, tea, book and warm lighting.
evgenyatamanenko via Getty Images
All the elements of hygge encapsulated: blanket, fireplace, tea, book and warm lighting.

Winter is like that distant family member who comes to visit and then overstays their welcome. At first, it doesn't seem so bad. But as the weeks wear on, so do you.

This is where the Scandinavian concept of hygge comes in to lift sunken spirits. It may seem like a buzzword, but despite long, cold winters, Scandinavian countries boast some of the happiest people. According to the 2018 World Happiness Report, Finland was ranked the happiest country. Norway and Denmark were the happiest in 2017 and 2016, respectively.

Hygge (pronounced hue-gah) is seemingly harder to define than it is to pronounce. Basically, it's a Danish word for feeling relaxed, cosy and content.

And Canucks would very much like to get on the hygge bandwagon. According to SEMrush, an online data and trends research company, Canadians Google "hygge" an average of 23,720 times monthly.

Well, search no more frigid friends, because we've rounded up some hygge how-tos to help you get in a cosy mood this season.

Learn about the hygge trend. Story continues below.

Hygge handover

When Helen Russell, British journalist and author of The Year of Living Danishly, moved to Denmark from London with her husband, she was only able to feel settled once they embraced the Danish way of life.

“Hygge defies literal translation, but the best explanation I’ve seen in six years of living Danishly is: ‘the complete absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming; taking pleasure from the presence of gentle, soothing things,’” Russell told HuffPost Canada in between ski runs, while vacationing with her Canadian mother-in-law in British Columbia.

Hygge has been called everything from “the art of creating intimacy,” “cosiness of the soul,” and “cocoa by candlelight,” according to Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, an independent think tank that explores why some societies are happier than others.

Related: Get cosy on the couch with these Netflix holiday gems for the whole family. Story continues below.

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"The true essence of hygge is the pursuit of everyday happiness," said Wiking, who also authored The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well. "It's basically like a hug without the physical touch. Hygge gives us the language, the objective and the methods for planning and preserving happiness."

Trust also contributes to a hygge way of life, according to Russell.

"Danes are very trusting and if you trust your neighbours, you're less anxious and have the headspace to be happy," she said. You feel better and are less stressed. Plus, trusting others can make them behave better so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Living Danishly is also about putting family first, reaching out to relatives and enjoying traditions, all of which have been shown to make you happier.

Friends toasting champagne glasses at candlelight table is hygge to the max.
Caiaimage/Robert Daly via Getty Images
Friends toasting champagne glasses at candlelight table is hygge to the max.

Weather advisory

Russell notes that the concept behind hygge stems from the olden days when folks couldn't survive winter in Denmark without gathering wood and food ahead of the season, which meant pulling together to help others to survive.

"It's so cold and dark October to March that everyone comes together," she said. "In warmer climates, you can still go out and spend time in cafes, but living Danishly means you pull together at home and get hygge."

And despite modern-day central heating, hygge is still about being together.

Since hygge has a lot to do with togetherness, Russell said it's about prioritizing your people, cramming as many folks you care about around a table and eating, drinking and being generally merry. Enter, the merriest time of the year!

"In Denmark, it's customary to invite anyone who's going to be alone at Christmas to join you and your family for a hyggelig time," she said.

The holiday season hygge is also about cuddling with a loved one, added Wiking, or relaxing in front of the fireplace while decorating your home, and listening to Christmas music.

A hygge home

Christmas is about creating an interior that'll create a hyggelig (cosy) atmosphere and candles are a key component, said Wiking. Danes burn the highest number of candles per head in Europe.

Simple candles are better than fancy scented ones, said Russell, emphasizing that anyone trying to sell you an expensive, scented "hygge" candle is missing the point since the lifestyle is about simple pleasures.

If candles aren't your thing, get some mood lighting to cosy up your crib.

"Creating a warm, welcoming ambiance in the home is key to creating a hygge environment, and this comes down to lighting," said Mary Banks, marketing communications manager for the hygge-inspired, adorne collection by Legrand.

A family relaxing by a fire and candlelight.
JaySi via Getty Images
A family relaxing by a fire and candlelight.

Dimmers can create the right lighting for a cosy night in. App-based lighting is also a great option because you can create pre-set lighting settings for different moods and situations, which can be controlled from your smartphone.

But technology can disrupt our attempts to relax at home, Banks cautioned, so try to avoid having it as the central focus of rooms. And make sure that electrical cords are not visible to help create an uncluttered environment.

Incorporating nature into your home is also important — Danes are all about nature.

"Danes feel the need to bring the entire forest inside," Wiking said, jokingly. "Any piece of nature you might find is likely to get the hygge greenlight. Leaves, nuts, twigs, animal skins.... Basically, you want to think: How would a Viking squirrel furnish a living room?"

(Good question but even better, the imagery of interior designing Viking squirrels!)

Another key aspect of hygge living is a hyggekrog, which roughly translates as "a nook," according to Alexander. This is an area in a room where you love to snuggle up in a blanket, with a book and a cup of tea.

And, there's no cosy without blankets. Danish sofas tend to have a cosy blanket thrown over the back of them at this time of year, said Russell, with an abundance of cushions.

"Really, hygge is about giving a name to those warm moments of cosy togetherness we've all experienced at one time or another," said Russell. "By labelling these moments as 'hygge,' it's easier to prioritize them and make time for more of them in our lives."

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