The Danes, considered to be among the happiest people in the world, have enjoyed hygge for hundreds of years. But what is hygge? Hygge (pronounced ‘hue-gah’) is a quality of presence and an experience of belonging and togetherness. It is a feeling of being warm, safe, comforted and sheltered. We all hygger: gathered around a table for a shared meal or beside a fire on a dark night. It’s a way of acknowledging the sacred in the secular, of giving something ordinary a special contect, spirit and warmth and taking time to make it extraordinary.
Although it’s not tied to a particular setting, hygge is strongly associated with our sense of home – both the pleasure of being in a safe and welcoming environment and the serenity of being at home within ourselves. We’ve teamed up with Louisa Thomsen Brits, author of ‘The Book Of Hygge’, to share suggestions on how to live more Danishly, by weaving hygge into your daily life…
Life in Denmark is harnessed to community, and Danes grow up with a strong sense of connection to their home, their street, their country. To hygge is to create an enclosing circle of warmth – by establishing an inclusive, relaxed atmosphere and a single point of focus to secure and celebrate a passing moment. The primal comfort of an open fire and good company on a dark night are the epitome of hygge. A cluster of people sitting beneath the encircling glow of a pendant lamp hung low over a table is a common sight in Denmark – the light seems to hold everyone together, to define them as a unit. At the heart of hygge is a willingness to set aside time for simply being with people and, ideally, having all the time in the world for them.
Create A Hyggeligt Environment
The way that a space is filled and contained holds our lives in a reassuring embrace. Situating ourselves within a comfrotable sphere of knowable and sensuous objects feels hyggelig. There is a mutual adjustment between people and things that take place when we hygger, a recognition and settling that affords ease and peace of mind, like the way we nestle into an armchair at the end of a long day, move a table closer to the fire in a local pub or wrap our hands around a favourite mug. The quiet ordering of things can place us and reveal us. A Dane will often pair objects together. Two candlesticks on a sideboard or matching plants on a windowsill may subtly allude to immaterial aspects of Danish culture such as balance and equality. A pile of books beside a bed is hyggelig like a reliable group of old friends.
Enjoy Everyday Rituals
When we hygger, we ritualise the everyday things that we do and transform the commonplace. The smallest actions consciously and regularly repeated become rites of everyday existence, shared or solitary, that speak to our hearts. Lighting a candle on waking eases us into the day. The Danish expression levende lys (living light) describes the comfort of a dancing flame – something warm, alive, authentic and linked to the spreading of hygge. Throughout Scandinavia, candles are lit on windowsills through the darkest months of the year. Allowing an extra ten minutes each morning for children to climb into bed warms each one of us. Hygge is with us in our quiet kitchen when we boil the kettle, weigh out our coffee, choose a favourite mug and wait for it to brew. When we listen to a well-loved piece of music on the train or stop for morning coffee, when we read in a hammock at weekend or mark Fridays in the office with cake and beer, we experience the hygge inherent in those moments as a touchstone at the centre of our busy lives.
Create a hyggekrog (hygge corner)
To shield themselves from others or, conversely, from the chill of loneliness and an uninhabited room, a Dane might make hyggekrog or hygge hjorne (hygge corners). Keeping certain places protected and dedicated for special activities facilitates hygge – an armchair in a corner set aside for reading, a table left uncluttered to enjoy our hobbies. By creating a point of focus, we centre ourselves and our environment. It only takes something as simple as a tea light on a coffee table or a carefully chosen film to invite hygge. Feeding our senses with warmth, good food, touch, fragrance or music adds to the ceremonial pleasure of hygge.
Our beds are a haven when life is challenging. A bed pushed into a corner, with walls on two sides, or an hour spent curled up under a blanket, recall the primal pleasure of a hule, or cave. Box beds with wooden panelling on all sides were traditional in Scandinavia as far back as the Iron Age. Shutters, wooden doors, low ceilings and thick curtains all help us to feel secure.
Danes link warmth with goodness. The common symbols of hygge – a fireplace, candlelight, newly baked buns and hot chocolate – all suggest warmth. A hearth is a place of peace and a source of energy. It represents the comfort of heat, heart, protection and food. The primary focal point in most Danish homes is the hearth – now seperated into kitchens, open fires and wood-burnign stoves. Through dark winters and a love of home and hospitality, Scandinavians have held on to a culture of warmth. The hearth remains the symbolic centre of the home, a place to gather, to prepare warming food and to hygge. Today, many Danes don’t have the luxury of a fireplace but they instinctively make up for it by burning candles and paying careful attention to how they light their homes, using subdued lighting, to accompany hygge.
Go Back to Nature
Danes prefer to live with natural materials that have honesty and integrity, materials that wear well and feel good to touch. The most common building material is wood, left unvarnished to allow its warmth and patterns to breath. Danes combine it with the solidity and richness of stone, brick, copper and concrete, also left unadorned for tactile appeal. Wooden floors or woollen carpets underfoot feel warm and welcoming. Fresh, clean sheets on a bed of down, linen and cotton, the comforting weight of a good blanket or the primal appeal of a sheepskin thrown over a chair all touch us and ask us to stop and hygge.
Hygge is enhanced by the embrace of furniture created for privacy and togetherness. Deep corner sofas that invite us to sit in, not on, them are made for contact, comfort and relaxation. They encourage us to lounge and play. Our bodies need space to move. A bed big enough for the whole family, beanbags and floor cushions, mean both the freedom to wriggle and the luxury of nearness. The touch of a well-designed dining chair supporting our back relaxes us and holds us happily around the table late into the night. Classic Danish elliptical coffee tables and round tables draw us towards each other.
Has our hygge how-to inspired you to live more Danishly? Have a go at making your home more cosy and welcoming with our new arrivals.
These tips are taken from Louisa Thomsen Brits’ book, The Book Of Hygge.