Hygge is nothing if not a buzzword that could convince me to buy anything from a pair of slippers to a giant crumpet. I can’t help it, I’m a sucker for advertising. But behind the commercial enticements there’s a long-established culture rooted in simplicity – a simplicity we can’t quite get our hands on because we are not being told what hygge feels like, only what it looks like. As a result we are all staring wide-eyed at this Nordic trend thinking, listen, you’re really cute, but I don’t know what you’re saying. Say the first thing again!
So, before we are force-fed another Danish word that we need 8 months of practice to pronounce (seriously is it hue-gah or hoog-ja?) I want to get up close and personal with some of the things that are constantly popping up amongst the 1.5 million Instagram posts tagged with the word, hygge. Not to offer you more visual interpretations of the word but to explore the feeling behind the image. Why? Because we are all seriously stressed out. Denmark on the other hand enjoys a consistent top spot in the global happiness chart. I want to learn how to #livethelittlethings off screen, so like any form of mindfulness, it’s gonna take some practice.
Okay. A fluffy blanket and a deep pile rug is not going to change your life. Nor is it going to make you feel forget about your Monday morning meeting with the ‘bitch from the other end of the office’. I will also admit that this subheading partly exists so I can show you my dog in her new jumper. But seriously, why is hygge full of cosy interiors and textures that make us want to disappear into our phone screens and take a nap?
When I went in search of answers I found a press release from online retailer The Rug Seller, who has reported, “a surge in sales of fluffy rugs in warming colours,” since the phenomenon took the world by the scruff of its neck and refused to let go. In fact sales of deep pile rugs, particularly in red and orange, have increased by 300% (September 2016). It appears then that cosiness is synonymous with the expectation of hygge.
Denmark has long, cold winters so naturally Nordic homes will have an abundance of layered blankets, candles and comforting textures. When you’re dealing with up to 17 hours of darkness a day and increased time spent indoors, interior goals become focussed on keeping warm and creating a relaxing atmosphere.
This kind of comfort is heart-warming. Pulling a great big knitted blanket over you as you snuggle down into the sofa makes you feel warm and secure in that moment. Maybe a hygge lifestyle is noticing that comfort and revelling in it, rather than taking a photo of it for Instagram (or your blog post entitled 6 ways to hygge in time for Christmas…)
I totally get hygge’s obsession with candles and dim lighting – I’m a candle fiend. Christmas is my favourite time of year for candles – all those irresistible scents of fresh woods and berries wafting through your home as you bake mince pies or wrap your Christmas presents.
And there it is – I’ve found hygge in this subheading without as much effort as the first. To be true to this long-established Danish lifestyle, it’s not the act of buying a candle that gives you hygge in your home, no matter how many press releases try to convince you it is, it’s the activity that comes directly after it.
I often light candles at my desk when I’m writing or working. I always light my favourite Bath & Bodyworks candles when friends and family come to stay. I’ll light candles to get the full experience of a hot bubble bath in the winter. I always light the candles on my coffee table on a Friday night before Tom comes home, because I know we’ll be spending all evening cuddled up on the sofa.
To put this into perspective, instead of depriving myself of an hour or two of comfort to avoid burning any more of my favourite $22.50 candle, I should be kind to myself, light the damn thing and bloody well enjoy it.
If you have family coming to stay with you this Christmas, chances are you’re looking for all the ways to make their bedroom feel like a home away from home. Hygge tells us that baskets of blankets are a must, as are candles and big textured cushions. Harsh lighting is generally frowned upon so fairy lights are perfect for creating that wintry feel.
Again, I suppose this obsession with the perfect guest bedroom can be linked to Denmark’s weather: 17 hours of darkness, cold winter temperatures. With more time spent indoors, friends and family are more likely to come over for dinner parties and stay the night. So in order to make sure guests are comfortable, there will be more of a focus on the look of a guest room.
Hygge is such an abstract idea that it seems absurd to liken it to a warm and welcoming guest bedroom. But that’s it I suppose; the hygge lifestyle is more about spending time in a shared space with your nearest and dearest. As Danish writer Tove Maren Stakkestad says, “hygge was never meant to be translated. It was meant to be felt.”
This one is all about texture and lighting again, with retailers telling you that you’ll automatically have that hygge feeling once you add a few sheepskin rugs to your dining table and dress it with an abundance of candles. But they are merely selling you the materials that might contribute to the ambience of an evening spent surrounded by friends. My kitchen table as pictured above is not worthy of the word until i’ve packed it with loved ones.
The German word, Gamutlichkeit, offers a similar cultural expression to the Dane’s word hygge. In essence it refers to the sense of wellbeing that comes from meeting up with friends for a drink and a hearty meal. It is a focus on togetherness.
Bringing friends and family into a shared space to enjoy a meal together is about telling stories, listening, reaffirming friendships, reliving happy memories and making new ones. A sheepskin rug draped over a dining chair or a plethora of festive candles flickering in the moonlight will simply provide a backdrop to the feeling of oneness.
At it’s heart, hygge is about enjoying the little things life has to offer and enjoying them surrounded by the people you love. In the photo above it’s my 27th birthday and my mum and grandparents are taking me out for lunch to a place called Beals Barn in Kent. The barn is warm and cosy, tables are kitted out with tartan throws whilst brownies are stacked in Instagrammable piles on top of glass cake stands.
The very act of spending that time with these three people is more akin to the Nordic trend than my cosy tartan cape or the interior of Beals Barn will ever be. The word hygge derives from a Norwegian word meaning, “wellbeing”. These people are good for my wellbeing because I am relaxed around them. They make me feel at home.
I’ve spoken a lot about spending time with friends and loved ones when it comes to nailing the hygge lifestyle, but I haven’t touched on what it means to channel the vibe individually. Since hygge descends from a word that means, “wellbeing”, it’s important to note all the things around the house that contribute to your own. That’s how retailers get away with convincing you to buy their blanket, pillow or shepherd’s pie because they are tuning in to our primal desire to look after ourselves whilst the world around us is losing its shit. (Donald Trump…Brexit…need I go on?)
For example, for me, wrapping one of these gorgeous deep-textured Christy towels around me when I get out of the bath is a small act of great pleasure that reminds me to look after myself.
Treating yourself to the fancy towels instead of saving them for guests, not feeling guilty when you devour a comforting bowl of pasta in front of the TV, enjoying 5 minutes of cuddles with your dog or cat, watching Netflix under a duvet, spending a weekday making chocolate chip cookies…these are all practices that relate to the one thing we do all too often…deprive ourselves. Of pleasure, of love, of food, of warmth, of time, of money. To get better at hygge, we need to start indulging in the little things that make us happy.
Do you agree? Are you fed up of seeing the word Hygge everywhere or do you welcome it as a way to furnish your home beautifully? I’d love to hear your thoughts.