At approximately 11:30am on a Monday I was stripping off my wet clothes in the entryway to our flat. The first thing off was my beloved waterproof shell, who had fought so valiantly against the sheets of rain, yet failed. Next came my trainers, squelching in protest at being chosen over other waterproof options, and then my jeans, soaked through to the point that they were falling down from the weight of water. In the dryer they all went, to be prepared for my next journey out the door. Up the stairs I travelled to put on warm and dry pajama bottoms for the following two hours.
That particular Monday was distinctly wet, and cold, and dark, and windy. It was not at all enjoyable to be outside, even for a self-proclaimed lover of rain. Of course, growing up mostly in a drought, rain has always been a novelty. My excitement towards rain diminishes more and more, especially on days like this day when rain, rather than falling gently on my umbrella, pelts my face, while said umbrella is blown inside out. This day seemed to be the end of gentle autumn, and the beginning of a winter that would mean a dampening of my clothes and my spirit in general.
About 20 minutes after I’d gotten through the doorway I was under a fuzzy blanket, watching HGTV, and slurping on a hot bowl of Heinz tomato soup. I felt decidedly less dreary about the weather outside, and the rain, which seemed unnecessarily aggressive during my walk to and from class, was now making an agreeable sound against the window panes.
As I sat, surrounded by the comforts of the indoors, I remembered a word that I had learned once, something that the Norwegians, and the Danes, and probably many other people that lived in places where it got very cold, and dark, knew of and believed in: hygge, pronounced like hoo-gah. Defined by Wikipedia as a “Danish and Norwegian word for a mood of cosiness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment,” hygge can be used as a combatant to the utter lack of cosiness that comes with a pair of soaking wet jeans. As the sunset moved closer and closer to 4:00pm, I began my research into hygge and its effects.
Denmark is consistently among the happiest countries in the world, even though their winters can be miserable. A portion of this success in wellbeing can be attributed to the national importance of hygge. The CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen has stated that hygge is “a defining feature of our cultural identity and an integral part of the national DNA.” While the Danes practice hygge year round, the winter is a great time for some of us amateurs to try it out. As I searched the internet for all things hygge, I found quite a few aspects that could be easy for students to try out.
Hygge is not some foreign concept that we all need to spend loads of money on trendy gadgets for. In fact, most of us have been practicing aspects of hygge instinctively. A warm fuzzy blanket and your favourite pair of sweatpants will serve to warm you on a cold day, while providing a sense of comfort. Making yourself feel comfortable is important, so take off those soggy jeans and trainers and bundle up in something warm and dry.
Our atmospheres can have a huge effect on our mood, and part of hygge is transforming them to create spaces that induce comfort and happiness. Thinking about light sources, one can come up with a few that could do to make a space a lot cosier. Candles are an important aspect of hygge, and easily accessible items to anyone in St Andrews. The Danes use more candle wax per capita than any other country in the world.
Candles are a wonderful way to transform one’s living place into a cosy, hygge-friendly environment. Their soft flickering light is much preferable to glaring fluorescents. If you live in halls, this is probably not the best for you, but a fake candle can usually serve the same purpose, if lacking a nice smell. Fairy lights are also pleasing, pretty, and fairly easy to find. Turn off the overheads and turn on a lamp to create a warmer, cosier environment.
If you are feeling especially inspired, feel free to build a Hyggekrog, which is a little hygge nook filled with wonderful things like pillows, and blankets. A hyggekrog could be a fort, a corner of a room, or even a designated couch. In these kinds of nooks one can snuggle up and relax, read a book, or watch a movie.
Food is another key aspect of hygge. Homemade baked goods, hot drinks, and sweets are some options, along with countless other comfort foods. The foods that make each of us feel happy can and will all be different. Perhaps a can of Heinz tomato soup? Comfort food does not have to be unhealthy, although it is perfectly fine to indulge. It can be soothing to your body and mind. Baking, and cooking are activities that can inspire calm and well-being. Hygge is not necessarily sitting indoors and eating all day long; the outdoors, and appreciating nature, are also aspects of hygge. Spending time outside is good for mental and physical health. Despite the cold weather, going on a walk on the beach, watching the ducks in the Kinnessburn, or even sitting outside can be hygge. You might want to save these particular hygge tasks for a warmer day, or at least one in which you are adequately bundled up.
Hygge is not only about our material environment or the aesthetic around us. An important aspect of hygge is togetherness. Spending time with family, friends, and loved ones is important in both hygge and wellbeing. Although curling up alone with a book can be hygge, it can also be a boisterous dinner among friends. A movie night is hygge, and so is baking cookies together, or walking in nature together. Hygge is about making connections with people you care about, and enjoying the little moments with them.
Hygge is a hard concept to define, even if you have the power of Wikipedia at your side, and this is due to the fact that hygge is different from person to person. Hygge is essentially identifying and practicing the things that make us feel happy, comfortable, and content. The winter can be a difficult time for many people. Especially when it is dark, and sunlit hours are few, maintaining a sense of wellbeing and mental health can be more difficult than usual. Sometimes it can feel like any moment that you are not working or being productive in some other way is a waste, but making time for enjoyment is not only okay, but important and necessary. Rest, comfort, and pleasure are important parts of life, and hygge is an enjoyable thing to partake in, and through its focus on little moments, can serve to make a whole season a little happier than it otherwise would have been. It is worth taking a page out of the book of the happiest country in the world, and focusing more on the simple things. Let’s settle in and make ourselves comfortable this winter.
If you are interested in implementing a little hygge into your life, feel free to look into some great resources and find hygge things that work for you: “The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living” by Meik Wiking who is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, “Hygge: The Danish Art of Happiness” by Marie Tourell Søderberg, and “The Cozy Life: Rediscover the Joy of the Simple Things Through the Danish Concept of Hygge” by Pia Edberg.