During our workdays, few of us do not look forward to relaxing at home that evening. Evidenced by our homes with fireplaces, our plush couches and upholstered furniture, over time we’ve become a nation of cocooning slackers who are solidly into comfort. It might come as a surprise then to learn that being comfortable with one’s self and surroundings has long had its roots in Scandinavia, specifically in Denmark. There it is considered heresy to strive to become a Type A, driven personality. Instead, the mark of an evolved Dane is their ability to relax, put their feet up and to contemplate their life and surroundings. Currently the centuries-old, Danish concept of Hygge, (pronounced “hoo-ga”) the art of ‘cozy,’ has crossed the pond and is being embraced primarily by urbanites in our major cities. Want to get ahead of the curve? Here’s what you’ll need to know about living the simple life. If adrenaline, Ferrari’s, and Powerball are your thing, you might have to move on…this article will just not be for you.
Despite some of the most frigid winters anywhere, Danes are rated among the happiest people on earth. A born skeptic, this writer noted that happiness is relative, there is no barometer or unit of measure to determine the accuracy of that statement. Also that Hygge, (derived from the Norwegian word for ‘well-being’) is not unlike other European-based concepts such as gemutlich in Germany, and gezelligheid in Holland. That said, lifestyle editors and trendsetters are always looking for the next big thing, and in recent years, that has been Hygge. The British, said to be stiff and formal, adopted and adapted the concept several years ago. From there this trend has emigrated to the U.S. where it is quickly taking hold. Why? There are numerous reasons, and in this article we’ll explore a few as well as provide pointers for those interested in simplifying their lives to the point where they can achieve a new level of contentment.
The chief reason for the rise of Hygge in the States is that anyone, regardless of social class or financial station, can achieve it. Since the economic downturn of 2008, the nation has not yet entirely returned to the same buying power it had prior to the crash. Having to make do with less, however, does not have to be a burden. Hygge demonstrates that there can be joy in developing an appreciation for what one has, the simpler things, and not allow the pursuit of expensive and desirable objects govern who we are or become. This concept is seen most often in our home and apartments and is expressed by its furnishings. From simple throws and decorative pillows used to snuggle up in front of the ubiquitous fireplace. If a flaming hearth is not available, at least a few candles provide the correct ambience if not sufficient warmth.
Hygge is making headway in the kitchen, too. Most Americans traditionally have family and friends over for a ‘big feed’ such as a backyard barbecue that includes a major protein such as beef, chicken or pork, and at least two to three courses. Entertaining ‘cozy’ means having a few people over to share a bottle of wine, a pot of chili, and maybe a homemade dessert instead. As Nancy Fuller, a show host on the Food Network puts it, “Simple is best…and always includes family.”
Why Hygge, Why Now?
Credit the concept of remote workers to the rise of homes with fireplaces and directed heat sources to warm the place where activity (or inactivity) occurs. Note that the trend towards repurposing items echos the tradition of handing down items in families, such as garden tools, or a piece of furniture such as a sideboard or a cherished piano. Embracing the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, Marie Kondo, the professional home organizer, advises her clients to declutter their spaces by keeping items that “spark joy” and selling or donating the rest. Used and secondhand clothing is huge with websites such as ThredUp and Poshmark that allow items to be sold for profit. And it is no wonder that the internet’s largest websites are resellers of household merchandise and handcrafted goods such as Amazon and Ebay.
The great thing about Hygge is that few is any of us will have to invest in additional possessions. If anything, Hygge is about paring down our furnishings, our cupboards, our wardrobe, and our lives to the simplest formula. What are the main elements that make your nest a Hygge home?
- A fireplace or source of warmth and/or soft light. It can be a space heater or a candle.
- Pillows and a lap robe. For snuggling up and reading, taking a nap, or to compensate for lowering the thermostat.
- Hot tea. The ritual of making and drinking tea in itself is relaxing, prompts us to slow down and to become more mindful of our actions.
- Mittens instead of gloves. Keeps your hands warmer and can be handmade from a worn-out, old beloved sweater.
- Homemade treats. Dust off old family recipes for chicken and dumplings, chocolate cake, and lentil soup. using kitchen small appliances like a crock pot is NOT considered cheating and will quickly fill your home with wonderful aromas everyone can enjoy.
Caveat: Hygge is not about isolationism nor having a flop day. Get up at intervals, take a walk outside, call a friend, or invite someone over. Be a hermit in your next life!
To sum up, Americans have been ready for Hygge for a long time. From our increasingly more casual workwear, to our weekend pursuits that usually involve binge-watching, we as a nation are learning to decompress from the workweek. We are learning to derive our pleasure from simple meals, companionship, contemplation, and conversation. Maybe the best takeaway from the concept of Hygge is, “It is not what you make, it is what you keep.” Looking at it this way, for those living the less-complicated Hygge lifestyle, truly “less is more”.