Liz Frost discovers there’s more to hygge than candles and cosy socks
Chances are you’ve heard of hygge – that Danish and Scandinavian word nobody truly knows how to pronounce (“Whoguh”) that involves wearing big woolly socks and hunkering down under a blanket, or so I thought… Last Christmas eve, there I was sitting by an open fire in a small hotel, wearing a cosy Christmas jumper, surrounded by my family, with the soft lilt of festive music drifting through the air. ‘That was so hyggelig*,’ I thought afterwards, but whilst it certainly had all the right ingredients, I wasn’t doing it quite right.
“Hygge means to appreciate the moment you are in – while you are in it,” explains Brontë Aurell, author of Scandikitchen The Essence of Hygge. And apparently, it has a lot less to do with candles and blankets than people are led to believe. In her book she explains, “People often confuse the word hygge with the word cosy. Cosiness, however, is mostly defined and created by physical things around you, whereas hygge is a completely psychological and emotional state.”
You see, in that hotel, in that moment, although my senses were encased from top-totoe in comfort, instead of appreciating the soft crackle of the fire, my mind was busy working through the cooking order for Christmas dinner the next day. Instead of soaking up the distant crooning of Nat King Cole, I was worrying about whether I’d bought enough presents for people and hoping the bulbs in the christmas tree lights would hold up. It seems that however many fluffy marshmallows are floating in your mug of hot chocolate, if you’re not ‘present’ to enjoy them, it doesn’t count as hygge.
So without the blankets, candles, fluffy socks and crackling fire, how are we to instill this sense of comfort and joy?
Whilst you can most definitely hygge alone, making sure you hygge with those around you (currently in your social bubble) often is definitely important. “Taking time to appreciate the nice times we share with others – and also ourselves at times – is really important and can most certainly help improve our wellbeing,” says Brontë. “It forces us to stop and think and go ‘Right now, I am in the moment – there are no outside distractions – and I am having a nice time’.”
It’s true. How often have you been so busy taking a photograph for social media, or mentally planning what was going to happen next that you forgot to truly immerse yourself in that moment?
According to Brontë, anyone who rushes through life and forgets to breathe and appreciate the good times isn’t doing it enough. “We are so very busy every day that we can forget to appreciate the moments right here and now,” she says. This is beginning to sound a lot like mindfulness, only wearing a fur-lined bobble hat.
In her book, Brontë talks about how hygge comes with the allocation of space and time to relax and allow yourself to be happy, as well as appreciating your sense of self and the people around you. It seems that in order to bring more hygge to your life, you need to make room for it – and, in turn, by making room to do absolutely nothing apart from having a nice time with people you like, you will inevitably start to relax.
“If you leave work at 5pm on the dot,” she advises, “walk home instead of taking the train, take a shortcut through the park, notice the birds singing… the time you gain is you reclaiming your life. Take it back. You do not owe anything to anyone else once you leave your desk.” Working from home at the moment? It’s just as important to leave your desk and reclaim that precious hygge time.
Unsurprisingly, hygge and food often go hand in hand. SkandiKitchen is full of wholesome comfort food recipes, for which post-consumption nap is practically obligatory. Food plays a part in setting the scene for hygge. A few suggestions she makes in the book are: a brunch for friends after a night out. Afternoon fika (sharing a cuppa and a little something sweet to eat) with the neighbour. Catching up with someone you love and a cookie or two.
“When we give our time and our love and we share the moment, hygge magically appears between us and allows us to forget about the world outside,” says Brontë. “We remove the outside from the equation by ignoring it, putting the phone in a different room and not watching the news. In hygge, there is no politics, no dangers, no sadness. Only appreciating the people you are sharing the moment with, right there and then. It may only be a lunch break, it may only be afternoon fika – but in those pockets of time, both bellies and hearts feel full.”
This Christmas will most likely be a very different one to the last for many of us. Gatherings will be small, hugs restricted and gifts modest. But if the thought of a locked down Christmas leaves you with a heavy heart, remember hygge is something you can bring with you whatever your plans. Even if it’s just you, some warm socks and the company of a good book, hygge gifts you with an appreciation for those small comforts you hold close. “The thing with hygge,” says Brontë, “is that it isn’t complicated. It is all about being present in the moment. You know how to hygge already and you don’t really need anyone to teach you the basics. You most certainly do not need to buy any ‘stuff’ to be feeling more hyggelig in your life.”
ScandiKitchen: The Essence of Hygge by Brontë Aurell will be published by Ryland Peters & Small on 12th January (£7.99)
3 issues for £9.99*
when you subscribe today
Exclusive prizes from our Heaven Skincare, Senspa, Green People and more...