Cozy. Homey. Comforting. These are some of the English words used to describe the Danish term, hygge (pronounced hoo-ga).
I stumbled upon hygge during my doctoral research. My dissertation focused on the effects of employee engagement and organizational culture, and, for at least a year, my research kept pointing me toward the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Iceland and Sweden) because they are frequently named as the happiest countries in the world, the best countries for families and working moms…the list goes on. So, naturally, I became fascinated at what makes life so wonderful there.
As I write this, my family is supposed to be on the plane to Copenhagen, but because of the coronavirus outbreak, we’re obviously not. Having won a Canva design contest in December which earned me $2,000 to spend on a trip anywhere in the world (!), there was no doubt in our minds where we wanted to go: Denmark.
The main reason? We are pretty committed to the hygge lifestyle and wanted to see it in action ourselves.
Why We Are Hygge Fans
In 2017, Meik Wiking, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute of Copenhagen (yes, there is such a place!) wrote, “The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living.” As I read it, I became more and more convinced that I MUST be Danish (spoiler: I’m not) because the principles of hygge aligned with all my favorite things: reading, small gatherings of close friends and family, board games, warm drinks, candles, blankets, fires (in the fireplace or bonfire pit), chocolate, cake…essentially, the feeling of being comfortable and “at home” no matter where you are.
Hygge, according to Wiking, “is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down.”
This all may sound a little bit complicated, but I promise, it’s not.
As Ingrid Opstad, founder of That Scandinavian Feeling, told me, “For us Scandinavians, hygge is an essential part of our everyday and deeply rooted in our lifestyle. Hygge is not about having it all, it is about enjoying what you have. It is all about enjoying the simple things in life, something I believe is one of the keys to happiness.”
Hygge At Home During Self-Isolation
Since the majority of us are isolated at home (except for our amazing essential workers—thank you!), doesn’t this sound like the perfect time to transform your home into a place you WANT to be versus a place you HAVE to be?
Personally, my family’s belief in and practice of hygge principles is playing a huge role in what’s keeping us sane during the coronavirus stay-at-home order.
Ingrid agrees: “The global pandemic we are all experiencing right now is a surreal situation, but I think that hygge and a positive mindset can help us through it. Whether you are on lockdown at home—which I am—or social distancing, it means you have a lot of time on your hands. It can feel lonely and scary at times while also a bit boring, but it is important to remember that you are not stuck at home; you are SAFE at home.”
And while we may be isolated from those we love and care about, Ingrid notes, “It is now more than ever important to focus on those little daily joys to keep your mood up while staying calm, and find those things that will help you find hygge at home. As much as it is important to keep physically healthy, our mental health is also very important to take care of in these types of situations.”
So, what are we types of things are we doing in our household during isolation that are hygge-like? Here’s what we’re doing:
I keep a daily gratitude journal and we talk about things we are grateful for at dinner. Some days, this might seem challenging, but a journal or conversation can really help you keep perspective on the things that matter.
Comfort foods such as cookies, cake and chocolate are actually considered hygge (yay!). At our house, we’ve been making treats from different countries to help us through the disappointment of our canceled dream trip such as the French madeleine recipe from my daughter’s American Girl Baking book or the cinnamon buns from Raddish Kids’ Swedish-themed cooking box.
Reading without any background noise
I was an avid reader before having kids. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time to myself to sit and enjoy a good book, but since we are in homeschooling mode, everyone has afternoon quiet time. And now that the weather is improving, I’ll take a book or a stack of magazines outside while I watch the girls play.
My hubby is a huge movie buff and has subscriptions to Netflix and Disney+. If Disney+ releases a new movie, we make that the feature for our once-a-week movie night; if not, we’ve been enjoying classics such as, “Mary Poppins,” “The Sound of Music,” and “Swiss Family Robinson.”
Board games, cards and puzzles
We’ve always loved games and puzzles, and our favorites include Pass the Pigs, War (with cards) and the Hatchimal Hatchtopia Game.
The sound and smell of a fire are very hygge, according to Wiking. We have wood-burning fireplace but are also lucky because we’re allowed to have bonfires at our house. There’s something so relaxing about listening to a crackling fire.
If you don’t have a fireplace or can’t have bonfires at your place, here are some fireplace videos you can play directly from YouTube.
All around the main living areas of our house, I keep soft, snuggly blankets in various weights and use them often. I am very comforted by being covered in a cozy blanket and can find a use for one, even in the summer.
Other than morning coffee for my hubby, this one usually just applies to me because I’m always cold. I’m a huge and hot chocolate-lover and I absolutely love the rituals that come with having tea. I love going for high tea and when my mom and I visited Ireland, I had tea four or five times a day. So relaxing and enjoyable!
We light unscented candles once the sun goes down, when the kids are in bed (I’m paranoid one of them will knock a candle over, so we wait). In Wiking’s “Hygge Manifesto,” the first thing he notes is that atmosphere is important to creating a hygge environment. Think: candles and soft lighting.
Cozy chair to curl up in
I moved an oversized, cozy chair out of my office to face out a back window so I could read and curl up in it, reaping the benefits of natural light. And, if you have the capability of making a window seat: do it!
I’ve held a few spa days for my girls where we dimmed the lights, lit some candles and put a spa playlist on Spotify. I soaked their hands and feet in warm water before painting their nails, and I even busted out the trusty facial sauna I’ve had for 15 years.
We’ve also made homemade bath bombs and soap so we can enjoy nice, long baths on our own, and my girls love leading us in their “yoga” classes, which mostly consist of us stretching. My oldest went on to open an in-house massage business. New customers (a.k.a. the rest of her family) can buy-one-get-four massages free with additional massages costing $0.25. She’s using the money she makes to purchase donated goods for our local animal shelter (and her massages are actually REALLY good, so they’re a steal!).
And, if you don’t have a yogi in your family, I highly recommend checking out the free videos on YouTube channel, Yoga With Adriene.
We are fortunate to live in the country on a couple of acres, so backyard walks and driveway chalk art don’t run us the risk of violating social distancing recommendations. My oldest even begged me to start a YouTube channel on her outdoor adventures (which we did; you can find it here).
The fresh air helps clear the mind and obviously, moving gets your blood circulating. Even just short, five-minute walk can decrease stress and increase creativity and productivity; just be sure to practice appropriate physical distancing!
Keeping the bad news to a minimum
This one can be difficult and again, we are so lucky that neither one of us are essential workers who are at the frontlines of the coronavirus battle (THANK YOU to those who are!). The kids somewhat understand what’s going on, but I found myself getting only a few hours of sleep each night when this whole thing started because I’d digest every news article about it.
This is still a challenge for me because I want to make sure I’m staying on top of developments, but I am also very aware of how the constant barrage of bad news affects my mood and how I act towards others around me.
Watching funny shows during date night
Laughter is wonderful for the soul and my husband and I find that, at the end of every long day, we need a good laugh. Our favorites are “Schitt’s Creek” and “Parks and Recreation.”
Trying to be more present
This is a very hygge principle and, to be honest, one that we feel we fail at. It has also become increasingly difficult with everyone in the same house 24/7; but we’re beginning to trade off time with the kids so that when we are with them, they get our attention. I’ve also turned off my company’s Slack notifications in the evenings and on weekends; if it’s urgent, someone will call me.
De-cluttering and cleaning the house
Keeping the house clean is also getting more difficult, but it helps we did a major declutter weekend in mid-March where we donated over 15 garbage bags of clothes and household items. I try to keep with the “one-thing-in-one-thing-out” rule, so we are frequent donators.
As for the cleanliness, I don’t know about you, but when I’m working from home, it is MUCH easier to concentrate when I’m not looking at dirt, dust and clutter. In fact, Ingrid has an entire section devoted to minimal, calm and hygge home design on her blog; check it out for some ideas!
Seriously, what would we do without FaceTime or Zoom during quarantine? We are on some sort of video chat at least once a day so we can keep in touch with family and friends. My youngest has been on a virtual playdate with eight of her preschool friends; my oldest takes drum lessons and has her band practice online and my husband and I have both participated in virtual happy hours.
We’re chatting with grandparents on pretty much a daily basis and my daughter’s Girl Scout troop is planning a movie night where they all watch a movie at the same time while on a video chat so they can laugh along with one another!
Planning our next travel adventures
As you can see in this video that went viral, my girls get excited to visit new places and, as you can imagine, were completely devastated when we told them our trip was canceled (read my tips for dealing with disappointment here). In the meantime, we’ve been learning about world geography and watching reruns of “Rick Steves’ Europe” during lunchtime to help us come up with a family travel vision board for future reference.
I’m also staying sane by connecting with a group of women travelers from around the world through my Wanderful membership. Wanderful team members host frequent activities such as language circles, blogging tips, wellness and fitness classes (I’m taking a Highland dance lesson from a fellow member in Scotland next week!) and it is great learning from and connecting with women who share the same passion for travel that I do.
Subscribing to monthly Hygge Boxes
If you’re at a loss for how to get started (or, you want to level-up your hygge), I highly recommend trying at least one Hygge Box (if not a subscription). I mean, what’s better than having everything directly delivered to your door, especially when we can’t go out right now?
Depending on which one you purchase, you’ll receive four to seven curated “hygge-like” items from around the world each month included elements of lights, warm drink samples and special treats.
Take up a new hobby
Ingrid told me, “Shifting your focus in these troublesome days is really important, and it is, therefore, the perfect excuse to take up a new hobby or do something you otherwise could not find the time to do. We decided to start building a tiny house – but it can be any activity you can enjoy alone or together with your kids whether it is a puzzle, painting, knitting or any other fun activity which brings you calm and hygge.”
In our house, I dusted off my sewing machine and have taught the girls a bit about sewing as I’ve made masks and extension straps for local healthcare workers who have requested them.
Learn More About Hygge
So, where do you start? First, I highly recommend checking out the following:
- That Scandinavian Feeling. Start off by reading Ingrid’s post, “How Hygge Can Get You Through The Coronavirus Outbreak” and then subscribe to her blog (halfway down the page here).
- “The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living,” “The Art of Making Memories: How to Create and Remember Happy Moments” and “The Little Book of Lykke: Secrets of the World’s Happiest People,” all by Meik Wiking.
- My hygge Pinterest Board
Keep Ingrid’s Advice In Mind
“Hygge is all about the small things that brings you joy. It can be as simple as sitting down in your favorite cozy corner of your home with a cup of coffee and a good book. It is those little moments that might otherwise be overlooked, the ones that brings a smile on your face and help you feel good. It can be lighting a candle to create a lovely atmosphere, purchasing a beautiful bouquet of flowers to display in your home, enjoying a family breakfast and chatting about your day together, a hug…
The way we find hygge in our lives is individual to everyone, so I would suggest starting by putting together a list of small moments that make you feel calm, happy and content and start to incorporate these more in your everyday life. But remember: hygge is not about the things – you can’t buy hygge, it’s not that simple – but a matter of the atmosphere and feelings they bring.”