How to Embrace Hygge, Denmark’s Concept of Coziness
The author of The Danish Way of Parenting, Iben Sandahl, explains the perks of channeling comfy winter vibes
Denmark often earns credit as one of the happiest countries on Earth. So when it proposed its homegrown concept of hygge as a powerful defender against seasonal affective disorder (and loneliness, and the all-purpose winter sads), the world paid attention.
Here in the U.S., hygge has of late become the bedrock of many a home goods retailer’s winter campaign: think fireside coziness amplified by merino wool blankets ($415 at Net–a-Porter) and cuddly armchairs (see “Unique Hygge Armchair” at 1st Dibs for $7,555). But according to parenting — and hygge — expert Iben Sandahl, this is consumerist bunk.
Below, the author of The Danish Way of Parenting explains what hygge is really about.
Here in the States, the word hygge often acts as shorthand for “buy these cozy things.” Do you have any thoughts on how Americans should approach hygge, given that we’re so often told shopping will fix everything?
Hygge has nothing to do with consumerism. Hygge is about an atmosphere. The surroundings aren’t necessary — only this special, invisible energy, which is rooted in something in between you and another person — some kind of contact and the desire to be together. It’s a state of mind where you feel connected, in which shared values transform into a “we.”
Hygge can be seen both as an intentional time we spend together and a general way of living. In other words, it’s about chemistry and the willingness to let your guard down and authentically be who you are.
Why do you think hygge has resonated so widely? What does it offer — outside of good marketing — that other ideas around “cozy winter vibes” cannot?
I think it is because there is a longing for deep, caring and meaningful relationships. Relationships that make us feel loved and accepted as we truly are, without masks and shields, as real, vulnerable people.
So if hygge can’t be bought, can you give us some practical tips on how to make it a reality?
1. Let your guard down and bring attention to being present. Breathe deeply a few times, and think of something that brings joy to your life. It could be when your child spontaneously hugs you, a walk in the woods with your partner or the pleasure of a hot cup of coffee. Embrace this feeling and feel what it does to your body. Once you have located this state of hygge, it is easier to reproduce.
2. Board and card games are something I love. You are spending time together but preoccupied with something external. It makes hygge easy to bring into your life because it is not constructed with an underlying intention that now we must be together and have a good time, which can feel contrived and unnatural. In my family, playing games is often associated with laughter and joy, with no expectations of the outcome.
3. Something very hyggeligt [HOO-guh-lee, the adjective] is building a cave in the living room (or in nature) with blankets, duvets, chairs, and tables with your children or partner. [Ed note: Yes, correct, a psychologist just gave you permission to build a blanket fort.] Bring a flashlight and tell a spooky story as you move closer together. We all love a little thrill in a safe and secure environment.
4. I am a big champion of the art of conversation. That goes for my family and my friends. My daughters and I always meet around the dining table or on the sofa after their school day ends, get some sliced apples and something to drink. I ask about their day to ensure that they feel heard and acknowledged, and that their emotional cup of attention is filled by me.
5. Go for a walk! With others! Getting out and feeling the healing power of nature while moving can be something special in the energy that arises between you. As with board games, your gaze is directed outward and away from the sometimes intense and expectant look, and this makes deep conversations and hygge possible.
6. Hug and cuddle your kids or connect with your loved ones. Everyone needs body contact, and if your child/spouse/partner allows and shows a need for this, confirm your presence and love with respectful touches. When a hug lasts around 20 seconds, there is a therapeutic effect on the body and mind — and respectful body contact in general has the same calming effect. My daughters still ask me to cuddle or massage their backs, feet or scalps. It is natural, healthy and hyggeligt.
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