It's no wonder the Danish word hygge was short-listed as Oxford Dictionaries' 2016 word of the year. After all, 2016 brought heightened racial tension, an unsteady political climate and multiple deaths of beloved celebrities, leaving many of us craving some warm, cozy comfort. Which is what hygge is all about: It's a feeling and a lifestyle where the comforts of home are embraced, food is hearty and warm, and friends and family are gathered together. It's accessible, personal yet communal, and totally lacking in pretense.
While folks in Denmark have long been obsessed with hygge (pronounced HYU-gah), it has only recently made its way to the U.K. and the U.S. In fact, a slew of hygge books will hit shelves soon, encouraging people everywhere to don warm clothes, grab a hot drink and huddle in front of a roaring fire. While that may seem like a Christmas scene, hygge is a year-round concept that helps Danes hold the title of the happiest people on Earth despite long, cold, dark winters.
If you want to add a little hygge to your home this year, here are 10 ways to do it.
Go home. Dining out in Denmark is expensive due to a 25 percent value-added tax, so Danes tend to spend more time eating at home. Plus, being at a nightclub or a pretentious restaurant is definitely not hygge. But being cozy and comfortable, most often at your home but perhaps at a softly lit cafe or a quiet nook at a library, definitely is.
Be warm. Think wool socks, sweaters and blankets — bonus points if they're hand-knit — and textiles in general, such as plush towels, throws or curtains. A more rugged interpretation of hygge may include animal skins — reindeer, goat or sheep — or (faux) fur rugs.
Use fire. In America we urge extreme caution with fire, and for excellent reasons. But in Denmark, a fire in the fireplace and plenty of lit unscented candles are considered more of an antidepressant and less of a safety issue. In fact, the Danish word "lyseslukker," which is the equivalent of "spoilsport" in English, literally means "he who put out the candles."
Eat cake. And porridge. And fruit compote and open-faced sandwiches and a roast of pork or lamb. Hygge food is comfort food for everyday people. It's not expensive or fancy; it's accessible, soothing and plentiful.
Drink glogg. Served hot, glogg is fortified spiced wine often sweetened with sugar and adorned with cinnamon sticks, cardamon, cloves, orange zest, raisins or other spices and fruits. It's popular in Scandinavian countries, especially around Christmas. If this doesn't float your boat, coffee, tea or cocoa are suitable hygge substitutes.
Hope for a storm. A raging storm, whether rain or snow, can increase hygge, says Meik Wiking, founder and chief executive of the Happiness Institute, a Copenhagen think tank, in an interview with the New York Times. Denmark has more than 170 days of rain each year on average, and their winters are long and dark (the sun sets before 4 p.m., and sometimes it's dark for 17 hours a day), so the climate itself can inspire hygge.
Invite friends. While you can hygge by yourself, being surrounded by friends or family is more in line with the spirit of hygge. So grab a cuddle buddy to snuggle with under that hand-woven blanket or invite guests to your homey feast to be more hyggelig. Playing board games with your company fits the hygge bill, plus you're going to want them on hand for what comes next.
Watch scary TV. Wiking also told the New York Times that watching scary TV shows or movies can increase hygge as long as it's fictional. (Watching the news is definitely not hygge.) Danes gravitate toward crime dramas or political thrillers, and the Times notes that “Borgen,” the Danish political drama that has been compared to “The West Wing,” is available on iTunes.
Half of Copenhagen's residents commute by bicycle. Notice the woman on a bike with a cart in which kids are along for the ride. This bike is the most hygge of all. (Photo: William Perugini/Shutterstock)
Ride a bike. Hygge doesn't mean staying indoors, and it doesn't require cold weather. Half of Copehagen residents commute by bike — following in their footsteps can be very hygge because it fits the bill of slowing down, not being in a rush and taking in what's around you in the moment. As a video on Denmark's official tourism website explains, some bikes are more hygge than others. A local bike shop owner points to a bike with a cart in the front and a pleasant-sounding bell as the most hygge of them all.
Decorate accordingly. Furniture and home decor companies such as Ikea and Bloomingdales are starting to sell products that promote the hygge lifestyle. Think round, sturdy wooden tables, throw pillows and pendant lamps. But Wiking tells NPR that "there are manifestations of hygge in terms of furniture and lamps and so on, but I think that's not what hygge's about. It's about an atmosphere, first and foremost."