To say the Danish are obsessed with hygge would be to state it lightly. Danish culture revolves around it, thrives on it, seeks it, and Denmark is even rated one of the happiest countries in the world, in part, because of it.
It’s a hard enough word to pronounce, but an even harder concept to pin down. What exactly is this ‘hygge’ that’s popping up in all sorts of conversations? The concept of ‘Hygge’ doesn’t easily translate into just one English word, but it’s concerned with experiences, rather than things.
Or, in other words; less stuff, more meaning.
Hygge references a mixture of things; the atmosphere of a moment, being with the people we love, cosiness, togetherness, cultivating a feeling of vulnerability, comfort and home. Moments with the feeling of hygge are special moments, whether they’re big and exciting, or ordinary, whether you’re alone or with friends. Some refer to it as the ‘art of creating intimacy’ with yourself and with others. Picture being curled up on a window seat, with a good book and a cup of tea, with the scent of a salted caramel candle filling the room. You feel comfy, cosy, at home and peaceful.
This, to the Danes, is the essence of hygge.
Image by Lina Hayes
As a newly married couple, just as ‘busy’ as everyone else, easily distracted by technology and a fast-paced world, balancing work, study and relationships, my husband Andreas and I have been intentional in the habits we’ve tried to set up in the first 6 months of our marriage. And the concept of hygge has especially captured us as we’ve thought about what it means to foster a happy marriage and home from the start, forming habits that we hope will last us a lifetime.
So what do the Danish have to say about making a home, and a marriage, hygge? There are 10 steps to the hygge manifesto, but here are just a few that we’ve tested and found worthwhile. We are by no means experts of course and have had our own struggles with making each stick, especially on those bad-day-at-work, flop-on-the-couch-in-front-of-tv days that, lets be honest, everyone just needs once in a while.
To Danish people making your house comfortable and homely is extremely hygge. We’ve used their concept of a ‘hyggekrog’ or ‘nook’ to set up a comfortable space with my grandpa’s old recliner chair and lots of cushions near the natural light from our front window. Nothing is more hygellig than good lighting, so candles and lamps are found in abundance. It’s a special space, a homely space, and it gives both of us the opportunity to have quiet time, sometimes together, but also alone. A space to sit, slow down and just be. We can do our own unique things there, and it’s important to make room for those in marriage. Andreas has his music, and I have, well, my stages of different fads. At the moment, calligraphy, tomorrow, who knows. We’ve been thankful for finding this simple way to help us slow the pace in our lives, and marriage.
Presence and Togetherness
To have hygge with other people, you need to first be present with them. There’s something special and innately calming about being in the moment with others, about being truly heard or having someone put their hand softly on your shoulder. It calms anxieties and reduces stress. Part of togetherness and being present with each other for us means we have time without screens, we go for a walk or bike ride together after work to debrief, we sit down at a table for dinner, wash up together by hand and schedule time in our diaries for Sunday breakfasts that can’t be booked up by other things. We make an effort to ask of each other at the end of this week, how’d we go this week? Is there anything we need to talk about? Opening up communication like this has been one of our biggest challenges, but reaps the most benefit for a healthy and caring marriage.
But togetherness and presence is also about others outside of your marriage. While we purposefully didn’t in the first few months we now try, as much as possible, to have people over for meals rather than going out to eat every time. We’re saving for a large dining table as we speak for this very reason! The Danish think there is something remarkable about cooking together and so they often have big cook-ups, where each dinner guest brings the ingredients to cook a dish and everyone cooks it together. We’re yet to try this, but love the idea! Even if something does not turn out quite perfect the feeling of shared laughter is worth even more.
Gratitude needs to be cultivated. There are plenty of opportunities to be disappointed in life if you’re looking for them, but looking for things to be grateful for can change your whole perspective. Being grateful means savouring moments and giving people the attention they deserve. Robert A. Emmons, a Professor of Psychology in the US, conducted a study that showed people who cultivate gratefulness to be happier, more forgiving, and less materialistic. Looking for things to be grateful for in your marriage, and verbally acknowledging them with each other, whether it be on the day of your wedding or an ordinary Sunday with tracksuit and tea, fosters healthy connectedness and well-being. You can develop your own ways of doing this, some people use gratitude journals, others have reminders tucked underneath fridge magnets or make use of slow, reflective weekend mornings.
Hygge may be a Danish concept, originating far from the shores of Australia and generally covered in snow at this time of year, but that’s not to say that there’s nothing for us to glean from it. A cup of tea, a comfy space and a thoughtful marriage are worldwide joys, after all.
By Jessica Follers.
Images by Gemma Clarke.