A Danish concept called hygge—say what?—will help you get through an Iowa winter in fine style.
We have to hand it to the Scandinavians, don't we? Their sense of design, of style, of color, and of practical sense makes, well, good sense. Magazines and designers are freely tossing around the word hygge, pronounced hoogah, and so will we. It is said to be derived from the Norwegian word for well-being, but it's the Danes who are running with the concept. It's all about finding joy in simplicity, a noble venture indeed. It may be why Denmark is always ranked super-high in the happiness quotient.
The word was even one of the Oxford Dictionaries' Words of the Year for 2016. It means coziness, conviviality, contentment, or well-being. In The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living, author Meik Wiking says the concept breaks down into 10 simple ideas: Atmosphere, presence, pleasure, equality, gratitude, harmony, comfort, truce, togetherness, and shelter.
The whole idea is about slowing down and breathing deeply. Sit by a fire, veg out under a blanket or two and binge-watch some movies or TV series. Cover your feet with woolly socks. Put on your comfiest flannel PJs. Surround yourself with soft lighting, such as small lamps or flickering candles. Feast on slow, rustic food. The longer it simmers, the more hygge it is.
It's all about creating a special quiet joy. Place emphasis on connections. Wonderful moments can come from sharing the company of others. Three or four people is ideal. Share what you do, whether it's cooking or playing board games or just having a good conversation. Share cups of tea or hot chocolate. Pop a bowl of popcorn.
It's not about creating an experience for your friends. You don't have to play host or hostess. Share everything you do, so that it's an equal experience. Feel relaxed, not stressed. It's all about the connection with those closest to you.
Works here, too
Scandinavian winters are long and dark, so it's important to embrace the hygge idea and carry it through. But, hey, we can have long winters, too, with snow-laden landscapes and cloudy gray days. So hygge is perfect for Iowans, too, as a time to slow down, turn off the mobile devices, and kick back with a little hibernating in mind. The goal is all about slowing the hectic pace of daily life.
Not surprisingly, the design and wellness communities are embracing the concept. All things cozy, from velvet throws to making or breaking bread with friends, are encouraged. Chill out, slow down, put on some music you love, and enjoy all that soothes the soul. That may involve reading some good books or magazines or baking some cookies you have been wanting to try.
Sharing time with friends is great, but spend some time alone as well. Write in a journal, or pen a letter—not an email or a text—to a friend. Pull out some old photos of family members or friends and remember good times. Create a bucket list of favorite things you love to do. Designate a cozy space that's all yours, whether it's a bedroom, a corner chair, or a window seat. Add a special quilt or pillow there. Reserve for your special times.
If you're in a book club, you already have a little hygge going on. If not, invite a couple friends to bring over a book or two they have read recently and enlighten the group. You'll all learn something and have a good discussion along the way. Everyone will benefit from the discussion.
Bottom line: It's uncomplicated and practical. Look around and just do it. It's not that hard.
Can you practice hygge in the summer? Absolutely. Visit a winery in the area and soak in some music, plan a barbecue, take a bike ride, or go to an outdoor concert. Savor the moments. Take pleasure in gentle things around you.