The people of Denmark are famously happy, with the Scandinavian country taking out the top spot on the UN’s World Happiness Report in 2013, 2014 and 2016. Ask any Dane what makes their country so pleasant, and there’s a decent chance they’ll mention one word: "Hygge".
Hygge (pronounced “hoo-ga” or “HUE-ga”) is a quality that roughly translates to “comfortable” or “cozy". But it also has connotations of spending quality time with family and friends, preferably surrounded by comfortably, gently worn-in decor.
“Think of being cozy, both physically and mentally,” says Charlotte Abrahams, author of Hygge: A Celebration of Simple Pleasures. Living the Danish Way. “It’s about cherishing yourself and your loved ones, putting aside the stresses of life and making time to enjoy simple pleasures,” she tells me.
Sound appealing? You’re not the only one who thinks so. In 2016, Hygge morphed into a popular British and American lifestyle trend. It’s been the subject of a number of books this year—including Abrahams'—and even named “word of the year” by both the Collins and Oxford dictionaries.
The hygge look is also taking over social media, as Charlotte Higgins writes for The Guardian. Instagram has more than 1.5m photos (and counting) tagged #hygge, variously showing knitted blankets, hands cupping warm mugs, string lights, and freshly baked cardamom buns. And according to Higgins, Pinterest has similarly seen a year-on-year rise of 285 percent in hygge-themed pinning.
It’s possible that hygge is an appealing antidote to the “clean-living” movement that’s been on the rise in the noughties. Since hygge is often associated with comforting home-cooked meals, coffee, buns, cake or beer, there’s little room for gluten-free, carb-free or sugar-free eating within this lifestyle movement.
Others suggest Brits and Americans are simply becoming increasingly interested in looking at other cultures for guidance on how to live our lives. As publisher Anna Valentine of Orion Books’ Trapeze imprint tells Higgins: “If you look at the biggest-selling lifestyle books, it’s things like Marie Kondo’s The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, which is inspired by Japan. Then there was Norwegian Wood—last year’s non-fiction surprise hit, a Scandinavian ode to the charms of wood-chopping.”
Perhaps hygge is just the latest manifestation of this oh-so-worldly approach to lifestyle movements.
Whatever the reason behind the craze, you're likely to start seeing a lot of fur throws, chunky knitted socks, and candles in store windows very soon, and you’ll have the Danes to thank.
So how can you incorporate hygge into your home?
It's so much more than just buying a few products; in fact, Higgins says the hijacking of the word as a lifestyle trend is a “conspiracy”—to make you buy stuff, basically.
But there's undeniably a certain look you can introduce to your home to help create a “hyggelig” (hygge-like) vibe as the weather continues to cool. The good news is, you don’t need to spent a ton of money to get your hands on these staple items:
“Natural materials and quiet furniture which speaks of comfort are very hygge; think Jacobsen's Egg chair,” Abrahams tells me.
Timber furniture, floorboards and soft leather are also trademarks of a hygge home.
“Soft light is crucial too,” Abrahams adds. So use that dimmer switch in your lounge.
Or if you don’t have one, “Lamps with layered shades like Poul Henningsen's Artichoke diffuse the light in a very hyggelig way,” Abrahams suggests.
Throws and rugs
Knitted or faux fur throws are essential to the hygge vibe, as a simple Pinterest or Instagram search makes clear. These should, preferably, be used for snuggling purposes in front of a roaring open fire.
Patchwork quilts can also do the trick.
A phone-free zone
Since hygge is all about quality time with family or friends, technology should be kept to a minimum in the hygge household. Try shutting your phone in another room, turning off the TV, and having long discussions with your loved ones over dinner or playing a board game.
Alternatively, grab a book and curl up in a cosy nook, known in Denmark as a hyggekrog. Anything from a bay window to a pillow-strewn area under your loft bed could do the trick.
Knitwear is about the comfiest, coziest thing on a cool day, and oversized knits are very hygge. Warm, chunky knitted socks? Also compulsory.
Casual dinner parties
Elaborate shindigs are not very hyggelig. But cosy, friendly dinner parties—preferably by firelight, incorporating seasonal foods and mulled wine—certainly are. Meatballs are a common meal choice in a hygge home (or so social media would have us believe. That could just be IKEA.)
“You can create hygge at home without buying anything special,” Abrahams says. “Just draw the chairs close together, scatter some cushions and throws about and light lots and lots of candles.”
But don’t worry too much, or overthink things.
Stressing out over making your decor match perfectly or keeping your sheepskin rug free of red-wine stains is about the least hygge attitude you could have!