Banish those Winter Blues the Danish Way


If the long, dark, gloomy January and February days, when the excitement of Christmas is long gone, New Years’ resolutions are all that’s left, and Spring a distant prospect, then you need some Hygge in your life.

For those of you not yet in the know, ‘Hygge’ (pronounced ‘Hu-ga’; you need to get this right first of all), is the centuries old Danish lifestyle phenomenon and fundamental part of Scandinavians’ everyday life which has hit Britain by storm over the past year.

The concept definitely seems to be resonating with the British public during the austerity and these economically tough times and political uncertainty, as it engenders a sense of calm and peace.

Denmark is a reliable authority on the subject, and country to emulate if you look at their levels of happiness. In spite of the depressingly dark, bleak winters and brutally low temperatures they endure, Danes rank high in the happiness stakes. So much so, that in 2016 they came 1st in the UN’s ‘World Happiness Index’.  The UK incidentally came in a measly 23rd position so we clearly have a lot to learn and where better to start than taking advice from the world’s happiest country, where you’ll find the wonderfully titles ‘Happiness Research Institute’.  This is a think tank whose task it is to improve all of our wellbeing and quality of life.  Meik Wiking heads the orgaisation and explains how hygge is a key factor present in every social situation; the Danes it seems not only practice the science/art of hygge, they fully live, breathe, eat, and talk about hygge.

So what exactly is it, and what does it involve? There is no single word definition in the English language; my best suggestion is ‘Cosiness, warmth, contentedness and togetherness’.  Think of a warm, all encompassing hug, or embrace.  For those old enough to remember, it reminds me of an old ‘Hug in a mug’ advert, where the sofa grew around the woman curled up inside, as she sipped her comforting drink.

The lighting of candles, whilst not obligatory is very Hygge and great emphasis is placed on the lighting in Scandinavian homes to create a welcoming atmosphere. The Danes are one of the biggest consumers of candles within Europe, burning on average 6kg per year and no meal at a Danish dinner table is quite complete without a candle or two burning.

Hygge can be observed as solitary pastime, but is most definitely best as a collective experience bringing friends and family together and sharing quality time and helps us appreciate our loved ones. Quality time is key, away from the distractions of the digital world, smartphones and social media.  Appreciation of life, the here and now and of the small things we take for granted is also fundamental to the ethos.  This is very much experiential and not about material possessions or wealth.  Understanding and focusing on this, according to the principles, helps promote psychological wellbeing.

Food, whilst not an essential element is certainly important for Scandinavians; just think of the tempting sweet, sticky Danish pastries and cinnamon buns they are famed for and the warming spices they use in a variety of baked goods.  Typically, Danes turn to comforting, rich food such as meat, coffee and cake to achieve a hygge moment.

The Swedish term ‘Fika’, meaning to take a break over coffee and cake with one’s colleagues, friends, or family  is closely linked to hygge  and is considered a social institution in Sweden and Finland and very important.  Its more than drinking a rushed instant coffee from a mug in a short work break, this concept is about taking a break and pause from everything to sit and appreciate and enjoy good coffee and the people and is usually accompanied with sweet baked goods.

The head of the Research Institute in Copenhagen explains the feelings of safety and security brought from successful hygge and that would certainly make hygge seem more relevant in winter, as an antidote and escape from the miserable weather when all you want to do is curl up indoors, wrapped up in front the fire.  However we are encouraged to maintain hygge throughout the year, when examples could include packing up a picnic and heading into the countryside with family, or taking a long walk in the fresh air, or bringing fresh scented flowers into the home. There’s nothing quite like eating al fresco on a warm day to improve one’s mood, and somehow food always tastes better!

So how else can I make my life more hygge? Chances are you are already practicing hygge without realising it. Hygge certainly exists in Britain but hadn’t previously been definied as such and isn’t prioritised in the same way as in Denmark and Sweden or Norway. Cosying up near a log fire in a country pub after an invigorating walk is a great example, as is enjoying a Sunday roast and conversation with the whole family around the dining table.

Next time you reach for a mug and tea bag to make tea, why not get a teapot and tea cups out and brew some proper tea, and relish the ritual with someone else over a slice of homemade cake. This is surely an easy and enjoyable way to embrace hygge and make your home more ‘hyggelige’!

If you are still in need of some inspiration, tips and advice, there’s a wealth of information in books, online and blogs written by authentic hyggers and those in the know.  Here are a few to check out:

Start with Meik Wiking’s The little book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well’ where he reveals the secrets to how the Danish are the happiest nation in the world.

Blogs include:

How to hygge the British Way

Hello Hygge

Also, if you’re keen to adopt some wider lifestyle ideas and cuisine, then have a read of Norwegian Signe Johansen’s ‘How to Hygge’ and her baking bible entitled ‘Scandilicious’, for some seriously tempting recipes.  For me it has to be the quintessentially Scandinavian spicy cinnamon buns, so wonderful and worth spending a bit of effort over in the kitchen. If you find a loved one to bake with you can even practice hygge at the same time!

Note. Contains Amazon Affiliate links to books.

Ellen Tweney

A keen experimental baker and wordsmith with a passion for travel who loves combining all three.

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