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The Danish word hygge (pronounced “hoo-gah”) lacks an English equivalent, but can be roughly translated as “coziness.” Conjuring images of snuggling around a warm fire or tucking into a hearty meal, the best explanation Helen Russell, author of The Year of Living Danishly, Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country (Icon Books, 2015) has seen is “taking pleasure from the presence of gentle, soothing things.”
With hygge being such an embedded part of Danish culture, perhaps it’s no surprise that, despite winters with only six hours of daylight and temperatures dipping below -30 C (-22 F), the Danes are ranked as some of the happiest people in the world. Here’s how we can learn from them.
1. Lighten up
Candlelight is a key component to bring about hygge. Consider making a habit of lighting a candle with your morning cup of tea or evening meal to start or end your day with some peaceful ambiance.
2. Learn to linger
Although it might be difficult for busy North Americans to embrace, dabbling in the art of lingering allows us to slow down and live more mindfully. If your normal tendency is to jump up after a meal to start cleaning up, try instead to sit for a moment and appreciate the nourishment you provided your body.
When it’s blustery outside, we may be less inclined to make social plans. But connecting with others (safely, of course) is important for well-being.
4. Celebrate simplicity
Russell stresses that “hygge is about experiences, not stuff, so it’s a happy time out from the rat race of consumerism.” Find joy in simple pleasures, such as reading a good book, listening to your favorite album, or watching the snow come down outside the window while snuggling up under a cozy quilt.
5. Enjoy the outdoors
Being outside is good for our physical and mental health—a phenomenon that certainly doesn’t disappear during the colder months. Consider cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or tobogganing.
6. Create a winter haven
It comes as no surprise that the Danes take pride in creating a comforting space, and Russell has found that most Danish homes are “monuments to hygge.” To get cozy at home, incorporate extra pillows and blankets in fabrics such as wool or organic cotton, cover bare floors with soft rugs, and layer window treatments to keep out chilly drafts.
According to Russell, “there’s not much yo-yo dieting in Denmark,” and food is viewed as something to be savored. Consider wholesome, comforting, and delicious winter meals like stews and soups.
8. Practice gratitude
When the temperatures dip, we can find immense gratitude for the many ways we’re able to stay warm—a cozy home, a hot meal, or a steaming shower. Write down three things you’re thankful for at the end of each day; research suggests that doing so can have a positive impact on our well-being.