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  • Writer's pictureStudent Wellbeing Service

How to embrace the Scandinavian hygge lifestyle: Comfy cosy living


If you’re attracted to the idea of Scandinavian living, then you’ve probably already heard about “hygge”. This unique concept is common throughout Denmark, Sweden, and other Scandinavian areas, and could be a good reason why the region is famous for being one of the happiest places on earth (move over Disneyland…)

If you haven’t grown up as part of a Scandinavian community, or visited Denmark for yourself during the holiday seasons, then it’s hard to describe hygge with words alone. The official hygge definition has evolved over the years, because like love, or peace, it’s more abstract than logical.

The best way to picture the hygge lifestyle is to think back to a cold winter day when you sat snuggled up with friends in your home, a soft blanket wrapped around you, music playing in the distance, and a warm drink in your hands. Your stomach’s full of your favourite meal, and as the snow falls outside you’ve still got warmth in your cheeks and your heart. That’s hygge.

As experts say, it’s all about opening your heart to the special appeal of simple, cosy moments, when everything just falls into place and you feel safe, warm and happy.

Doesn’t that just sound perfect?

What does hygge mean? Back to basics

So, what does hygge mean?

Where does this wonderful and heart-warming concept come from?

The word hygge is Danish, but it has roots in ancient Norse, with connections to the word “Hugga” which means to give comfort or console. That word also happens to be the source of our English word: “Hug.” So hygge is kind of like you’re being embraced by all the beautiful things in the universe. Nice, right?

Hygge was traditionally attributed to the Scandinavian feeling of finding warmth and shelter after a long day working in the freezing cold. However, it applies to any time and space — not just the winter. Sure, it’s easier to embrace the feeling of hygge during the bracing cold seasons in Denmark, but you can embed this feeling of cosiness into all aspects of your life too.

Scandinavia knows its bleak winters better than most, yet despite the incredibly harsh winters in Denmark, the Danish continue to be some of the world’s happiest people. Hygge is one of the reasons behind that feeling of contentedness.

Described as “fun,” “togetherness,” and “warmth,” a single hygge meaning is hard to come by. There’s no literal translation into English, which means that the only real way you can understand what the hygge lifestyle feels like, is to embrace the concept yourself. Simple words like comfort just don’t do the experience justice on their own.

Hygge isn’t just about lighting candles or wrapping yourself in a blanket; it’s about being curled up with a good book on your favourite chair or dipping into a warm bath and feeling your muscles relax. Hygge is a kind of art form, developed by creating intimacy and warmth in virtually any moment. It can be celebrated alone, or in groups, and it’s an idea that pervades everything the Danish stand for. It’s no wonder that Denmark is such an amazing place to work and live.

Hygge essentials: Living the Scandinavian hygge lifestyle

Since the only way to get a true hygge definition is to try the lifestyle for yourself, let’s consider the basic essentials of hygge.

The first thing you need to know is that the hygge experience is flexible. In other words, while most people experience hygge at home with their friends and family, you can also have moments of this sensational feeling when you’re in other people’s homes, or when you’re alone and enjoying some crucial “me time.”

The concept is so deeply embedded into the Danish lifestyle, that hygge quotes can be found in virtually all corners of the country. For instance, “Hyggeligt at mode dig” means Nice to Meet you, and when you let your kids play with their friends, you say “Hyg jer” — not just have fun but make yourself comfortable. The rest of the world is gradually beginning to catch up with the Danish idea that spending intimate moments in cosy environments is good for the soul.

So, how do you hygge?

Step 1: Get the lighting right

Candles and firelight are crucial to the hygge experience. Although there’s a lot more to having the legitimate hygge lifestyle in your home, it’s difficult to experience true cosiness when you’re in harsh artificial lighting. According to one book “The Little Book of Hygge,” over 70% of Danish people generally light candles once per week. They don’t just light one candle either. Around 31% of Danes say that they’re lighting about 5 candles at a time.

Candles help to get us in touch with more “natural” experiences. The lighting is soft and yellow, which is warm and comforting — rather than the harsh white of artificial lights. You can upgrade your hygge experience by choosing candles with scents that make you feel more comforted. For instance, go for scents like baked goods, or cinnamon.

Step 2: Choose the right company

Although it is possible to enjoy the hygge lifestyle alone, it’s generally much better to do it with friends. A cornerstone of a true hygge experience is snuggling up with the people you love most in the world. You don’t need to fill your house with people, just reach out to a handful of friends and family that you want to see.

According to the Danes, about 3 or 4 people is more than enough to enjoy hygge. Think about the people that matter most in your tribe and the ones that fill you with warmth. Remember, it’s all about finding a space where you can be yourself, and feel loved, connected, and warm with other people. Avoid inviting anyone new into your hygge circle — this is a moment for just your nearest and dearest.

Step 3: Enjoy the little things

The new trend of implementing “hygge” into interior design has started to lead some people towards thinking that the hygge definition involves overhauling your home’s aesthetic. However, it’s not actually about extravagance or buying new things. Instead, enjoying hygge means focusing on making the most of the little things that you already have.

Treat yourself to a coffee in your favourite mug and indulge in a bubble bath for as long as you like. You can treat yourself too — but just to little things, like some food you want, or a new pair of gloves. Once you’ve got the thing that you want to indulge in, take the time to really enjoy it. Don’t rush from one task to the next; focus on being truly present in each moment.

Hygge is more about mindfulness than most people realise. The fact that people in the UK and the US are so busy rushing through their lives and ignoring the wonders around them is one of the reasons that we struggle to achieve hygge until we finally take a break.

Hygge definition: Is hygge about indulgence?

The Scandinavian hygge lifestyle embraces a lot of different things.

Cosiness, warmth, love, friendship, and even indulgence are all bundled into one experience. As well as providing you with a space where you can truly relax and unwind, hygge also ensures that you can enjoy some luxuries without feeling overly guilty.

You can buy yourself that new pair of lounge pants you’ve been wanting and wear them for two days straight or spend an hour in the tub with an expensive bubble bath. You can even drink a couple of extra glasses of wine if you know how to do so responsibly. The hygge experience means that you can indulge in the various pleasures of life without feeling guilty.

Part of the hygge lifestyle for you might mean finally giving your diet a miss for a day and drinking a hot chocolate that you’ve been craving. Danes naturally have a sweet tooth, so they often use the search for hygge as an excuse to stock up on the sweet treats they love.

On the other hand, enjoying hygge doesn’t just mean consuming as many sweet goods as you possibly can without thinking about it. Gratefulness is also essential to hygge. You need to be mindful of the here and now and appreciate the simple things in life too. Every day is precious in the Scandinavian lifestyle, which means that if you want to do as the Danish do, you need to remember to appreciate the here and now.

Let your worries go for a little while and focus on the good things that are everywhere in your world for a day or two. A lot of people struggle with focusing so much on what they want that they forget to appreciate what they have. Hygge can help with overcoming that.

Additionally, remember that the hygge essential experience requires plenty of rest and relaxation. Throw on some of your favourite music to trigger those fantastic emotions you get when you’re singing along to a tune with friends. Kick your feet up and change into the least restrictive clothing that you have.

To some extent, the hygge lifestyle allows you to give your stressed-out, overly responsible, and exhausted adult personality a break. Instead, you get to spend some time in the belief that everything really is going to be okay.

The Hygge experience: Gifts, recipes and more

The most common time of year to experience hygge is around the Christmas and holiday season. This is when the nights are longer, the days are colder, and everyone in Denmark needs a bit more cosiness in their lives. That means that hygge gifts can be more common at certain times of year. There’s no need to give gifts at every hygge experience you set up — as it’s not an official celebration of anything in particular. However, if you’re connecting with people you haven’t seen in a while, then you might want to give them something to remember the day.

If you’re looking for hygge gifts, usually the best thing you can do is keep it simple. Candles are a pretty good choice — particularly if you’re celebrating with the Danish. If you can get candles that smell of something that your friend or family member loves, then that’s even better.

For other ideas, just look for anything that will make your loved one feel warm and cosy. Maybe a version of their favourite book so they can cuddle up beside the fireplace later. You might even invest in some cosy lounge clothes that your friend or family member can wear when they’re at your home or wandering around their own. Keep your focus on comfort above all else.

Another excellent idea when it comes to hygge gifts is food. Food is one of the biggest features of a tremendous hygge celebration. You don’t need to sweat over the oven for several hours cooking a 5-course meal either. Most Danish people won’t expect hygge recipes to be extravagant in any way. Instead, they’ll be looking for something comforting and a little indulgent.

From a culinary perspective, think of it like giving yourself a break from the demands of healthy living and high expectations for a little while. Instead, allow yourself to re-discover the fun of baking your favourite cakes, or enjoying the process of tasting soups and sauces as you make them. Cake, hot chocolate, porridge, and anything else that’s naturally warming is a great choice. Avoid trendy foods like avocado on toast — unless you really love it!

5 Hygge recipes to try this year

If you’re starting the hygge lifestyle for the first time this year, the best thing you can probably do is invite a few Danish friends over for some relaxing fun.

On the other hand, you can always have a go at recreating the experience at home too. When it comes to making the right food, scour through the recipes that you used to love from your mum and grandparents for inspiration. Those cookies and cakes your granny used to make are sure to go down a treat.

A few more specific hygge recipes you can try include:

1. Glogg

Pronounced Gloog, Glogg is a recipe that seems to differ depending on where in Scandinavia you are. The Danish generally use spiced mulled wine to create Glogg, combining all the warming and sweet things they can find into a kind of punch. The basics include things like red wine, orange, raisins, almonds, and other spirits for an extra kick.

2. Struva

Struva is more of a holiday treat than something specifically for hygge, but you can really make it any time of year. It’s kind of like a mixture of donuts and cookies that’s sure to make your mouth water. If you’ve never seen them before, then you’re in for a real treat. Ultimately, these treats might look quite challenging to prepare, but it’s easier than it seems.

3. Ginger cookies

Ginger cookies are the ultimate treat for your Scandinavian hygge lifestyle. Known as brunkager in Denmark, the warm and tingly spices in these biscuits are the stuff that dreams are made of. You can even make gingerbread men with the kids if you want to. Just make sure that you decorate them with all of your favourite treats.

4. Risalamande

Risalamande is a decadent version of rice pudding with heavy cream and a warm cherry sauce. Around 90% of Danish households apparently serve this food on Christmas Eve, and you can also play a game with it where you hide an almond in the mixture and wait for someone to find it. It’s a delicious and warming meal or an after-dinner treat.

5. Hasselbackspotatis

Hasselbackspotatis (or Hasselback potatoes) are the Swedish version of roasting potatoes that you’ve probably had in meals before today. Potatoes are an excellent addition to a hygge meal because they’re so full of warmth and you can smother them in sour cream, cheese, butter, and other decadent toppings too — there are plenty of ways to make Hasselback potatoes in a style that suits you.

How to pronounce hygge and other fun facts

While there’s no universal translation for the true hygge meaning, it’s a concept that we could all benefit from exploring a little more. The concept of hygge represents sentimental and difficult describe feelings of comfort, cosiness, and happiness. In the UK and other locations around the world, the best way to think about it would be to consider the jovial mood that we all attempt to embrace around the holiday season.

You can enjoy hygge wherever you are in the world, at any time of year. All you need to do is open yourself up to the concepts of cosiness, together, and gratefulness. If you can spend a little more time focusing on getting the most out of your life, and a little less time worrying about the little things, then you can even embed hygge essentials into every day.

Still wondering about hygge? Here are some of the basics you need to know.

Q: How do you pronounce hygge?

Few people know how to pronounce hygge outside of Scandinavia, because it isn’t pronounced as it’s spelled. Instead, it sounds like Hue-gah or Hoo-gah. Click here for a better insight into the hygge pronunciation.

Q: What does hygge mean?

Ultimately, it’s hard to get a proper hygge definition from anyone that applies to all instances of the word being used. There’s no single English word that can fully describe what it means to enjoy the wonders of hygge. The closest you’ll get is to use words like cosy or homely, or even warm and relaxing.

Q: Does hygge exist in other places around the world?

Since hygge is an abstract concept, it exists everywhere, whether you know about it or not. However, there are some better words for this feeling in certain parts of the world. For instance, the Scots call it cosagach, and Japan has a very similar concept to hygge known as ikigai. Remember, it’s not necessarily a celebration, but a feeling of comfort and cosiness that combines with wellbeing and warmth.

Q: Does hygge only happen during winter?

You can practice the hygge lifestyle all year round, whenever you want. Remember, hygge is all about getting the most out of your life and enjoying the comfort and cosiness of the world wherever you can find it. Whether you’re taking a relaxing bath or enjoying some indulgent food with friends, you can get the most out of the hygge essentials any time during the year.

Q: What are some hygge quotes?

There are a lot of great hygge quotes out there, for instance, in the Little Book of Hygge, Meik Wiking says that you “cannot hygge if you are in a hurry or stressed out.” Reading through this book might give you a better understanding of what you need to do to unlock the true feelings of hygge in your day-to-day life.

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Best wishes, The Wellbeing Team

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