I'm Swearing by the Hygge Manifesto

When I first heard “hygge” mentioned on the radio a few months ago, I turned the volume up. What is this word they’re saying? I think it’s meant for me…

Hygge (pronounced HOO-ga), the Danish philosophy that’s taking over the internet, is basically the idea of living your coziest, most cuddled-up-with-your-loved-ones-by-a-fire-drinking-hot-chocolate kind of life. The approach helps Danes get through long, dark winters.

As a person who is perpetually wrapped in a blanket, who was aghast when she discovered her boyfriend didn’t immediately change into sweatpants after work, who loves game nights and drinks red wine all year round — had I been living a hygge existence all along without even realizing it?

Copenhagen-based photographer Nana Hagel says: “People all over the world have ‘hygge’ in their lives, they just don’t necessarily have a word for it.” 

But for Danes, hygge is much more than nice lighting and warm drinks (though those are greatly encouraged). “Hygge can happen when there are soft blankets and candles involved, but it has more to do with your mindset, relaxing and feeling comfortable with the people you’re with, or alone,” explains Hagel.

I’m already drawn to all things cozy, but could I get even more hygge — both of the body and the mind? As winter’s ennui set in, I couldn’t think of a better time to try. So, I turned to The Little Book of Hygge, in which Meik Wiking, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute (that title!) lays out the hygge manifesto.

Using Wiking’s hygge pillars as my guide, I set out to approach winter like a Dane:

Atmosphere. According to Wiking, 28% of Danes light candles every single day, so I’ve been following suit. “Since we go through an extraordinary number of candles, we get cheap tea lights from Ikea,” says our Danish friend Lee Jensen, who grew up in Copenhagen. Bringing actual nature into your home also ups your hygge game, but instead of house plants (which are doomed in my apartment), I’ve been opting for fresh eucalyptus branches. They smell earthy, are super cheap and last a full month — much longer than most flowers.

Truce. “Hygge is all about relaxed thoughtfulness,” Wiking told us. “Save the talk about politics for another day.” With all that’s happening in the world right now, I’m always talking about politics with friends and at work. But, for sanity, I’m trying to take small breaks on my own. The classic go-tos — a book, a bath, a run — have proved steadfast. I’ve been opting for novels by young female authors. So far I’ve eaten up The Girls, The Mothers, Sweetbitter and Fates and Furies. All engrossing reads, and it makes me feel all hygge inside knowing this demographic of writers has been killing it lately.

Presence. Hygge is all about living in the moment, and one of the simplest ways to do this is… stay off your phone. But during any downtime at home or with friends, my hand starts autonomously grasping around for my phone like it’s a lifeboat. Before you know it, I’ve liked an Adventure Cat pic and tuned out the conversation. Lately I’ve been leaving my phone in my purse, which has helped temper my addiction.

Shelter. Instead of meeting friends at bars or restaurants, I invited people over twice last week. We could actually hear each other, and it was much cheaper and less crowded. Pizza parties are always a hit; and if we have a little more time, this easy lasagna with cheese and spinach is the ultimate group comfort food. Playing multiple rounds of Celebrity is a must, either way.

Comfort. Sweatpants, wool tights, chunky sweaters. Nuff said. “Danish people typically take their shoes off at home,” says Jensen. “Basically every Dane I know wears knit socks or these felt slippers.” This winter, I got this hilarious footwear, which took things to a whole new hygge level.

Togetherness. My friends and I are always juggling work, relationships and life itself, so it can be hard to get everyone together. Meik suggests starting a tradition: “It might be playing board games on Fridays, or a monthly cooking club, or any meaningful activity that will knit the group more tightly together,” he says. Following his advice, I’ve finally started the articles club I’ve been wanting to host for so long. First up: “The Wedding Toast I’ll Never Give.”

Harmony. Hygge is all about the idea of “we over me.” But do you ever have those moments with friends, where it feels like everyone is waiting to talk and no one is really listening? I’m guilty of conversational tunnel vision, for sure, but the other night on a double date I made a conscious effort to rein in my diatribe. Instead of immediately countering my friends’ stories with one of my own, I told myself to hold on, listen and ask a question or two first — like a little hygge pep talk in my head. It ended up being such a fun night, we already have another dinner on the books.

Pleasure. On a recent road trip, as my boyfriend and I drove past one of many McDonalds, thoughts of those gooey sundaes I loved as a kid flashed in my mind. This is not an impulse I would normally entertain, but hey, I was living by the hygge manifesto, and pleasure is key. So we swooped into the drive-thru and within minutes I was indulging in cold soft serve ice cream and warm fudge — pure bliss, just as I’d remembered. Apparently, hygge is not reserved solely for at home or by a fire, you can find it sitting shotgun in a Prius.

Finally, a fun fact: Danes use the adjective “hyggelig” even more than the noun “hygge.” When you leave a friend’s dinner party, you might say, “It was very hyggelig.” If you felt a special connection with someone new, you might even say, “hyggelig to meet you.”

Will you try out the hygge lifestyle? Do you already? What are your favorite hyggelig winter activities?

P.S. Surprising things about parenting in Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

(Copenhagen photo by Karen Sofie.)