Getting my hygge on this morning – candles and coffee before the sun was up
There’s that word again…Hygge! It’s everywhere I look now. Pinterest has exploded with Hygge pins, (I too have my own dedicated Hygge board), there are books written about it, newspaper articles and blog posts galore; pretty soon instagram will be flooded with hygge and hyggelig squares in soft focus. But what is it and where can I get some?
Hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) is a Danish concept, for which there is no direct translation in the English language, it’s more an umbrella term.
“Hygge was never meant to be translated – it was meant to be felt”
~ ToveMaren Stakkestad
After much research into the world of all things hygge, I have discovered it is not only a feeling (that cozy content feeling) but it is also physical. Hygge is noun, verb and adjective! To hygge or invite someone to hygge, is actually a thing.
I first came across it last autumn and fell instantly in love with the entire concept. It became very much a focus of our home last winter. This year I want to delve in a bit deeper to embrace this wonderful thing and add a Scottish flavour, so am now calling it : Coory (as in to coory in)
You may already be familiar with the hygge phenomenon and be rolling your eyes as it is fast being co-opted by the middle class (as The Guardian and the Telegraph have been keen to report on it) as the latest trend to follow, or see it as being smug and yet another layer of social media saccharine fakery in the look-how-wonderful-my-life-is bollocks. But I don’t think it has to be that way and nor should it. That is NOT hygge. Not how the Danes do it and certainly not what I take from it – in fact that notion is the exact opposite of hygge. Another keeping up with the social media Jones’s is the anti-hygge. Denmark is one of very few countries where equality is an integral part of life and culture – the egotistical heirarchy and one-upmanship is not prevalent as it is elsewhere, such as here in the UK. Hygge is not just for those who can afford it, it is for everyone! You cannot buy hygge; candles, yes, but hygge, no!
So how do you hygge/coory? For a start, stop being so bloody British and moaning about the weather; embrace it! The summer has gone for the year, or rather it ought to have, but so far, October 2016 has been more ‘summery’ than that of July and August 2016 combined, but stick with me here. If, unlike me, you are already mourning the summer sun and despairing at the drawing in of the darker night and chillier days, then let me introduce you to the concept of hygge. Ready?
The top tips of getting your Hygge on and Coorying in can be categorised by what I call the 7 Cs:
Turn the big light off , light some (lots) candles and/ or twinkly fairy lights. This works both in the morning and in the evening, or as we get further into autumn and winter, then the afternoon too. The harsh glare of the big light is not hygge, it does not invite you to coory in. The softness of the candles do. They create a gentle light, can be romantic but not necessarily so, they change the atmosphere dramatically and are calming. Twinkle lights do too, as long as they are not the bright brashy white bulbs, the warm white has a much softer glow. All my twinkle lights, whether strung round curtain poles or stuffed in glass jars, are all warm white and super cozy. An upside to using candles is the heat they generate too – save some pennies on the leccy bill and reinvest it in candles.
Heading into the chillier months and then the cold depths of winter, it is so important to be warm. Making and keeping our homes and ourselves cozy seems pretty straightforward but bunging the central heating on is not cozy (it heats up the home and keeps us warm, it also seems to welcome and give a home to the common cold. When I lived in my old flat, where I had no central heating, I had hardly a cold in any of the 5 winters I lived there…just saying…), plus it’s not an option for many people these days. No, coziness is found amongst blankets and cushions, quilts, jumpers, cardigans, fleecy pyjamas, onesies, thick socks and slippers. Layers, warm layers.
I remember when I was a teenager, my friend and I bought thick cozy socks from Marks and Spencers which we loved and named them “beside the fire socks”. We were experiencing the pleasure of hygge without even knowing it. My “beside the fire socks” feeling has stayed with me and when I see a pair of thick cozy socks the image they conjure in my head is simply “beside the fire”. It warms my heart as well as my feet! And what is not to love about coorying under a blanket on the couch to watch the tv or read a book with a mug of tea? Or coffee or hot chocolate? Warm mulled wine or cider are equally cozy inducing factors in hygge. And if all fails and you end up with the cold, then a whisky hot toddy is just the hygge ticket.
Cozy is not restricted to the indoors – get your hygge groove on outdoors by getting cozy in scarves, gloves and hats ( I love getting all wrapped up to go out), add the warm mulled wine at a Christmas market (See photo of me at the Edinburgh Christmas Markets in Princes St Gardens 2007 with said mug of hot gluwhein, above). PLUS you have to get outdoors to appreciate the coziness of hygge when you come back inside. And, nothing invokes a sense of coziness other than to be outside after dark, when people in their homes have their lamps on but have not yet closed their curtains or blinds. I LOVE being outside looking in. Maybe it’s because I’m nosy or maybe there is just something super cozy and warming about seeing others go about their lives in the comfort of their own homes.
It’s no good being snug as a bug by candle light if you’re not comfy! And I don’t just mean the chair or sofa in the livingroom. Being comfortable in your surroundings and in the company you keep are crucial hygge points. A relaxing bubble bath is hardly comfy if you are freezing the minute you step out the water. Having to make torturous small talk with someone, even by candle light, is hellish and highly uncomfortable. Being comfy in yourself – in your body, your clothes (I don’t mean in terms of fashion, I mean in terms of a too tight wasitband for squishing your insides for instance – not comfy), in your esteem etc, is oh so important, and not just for hygge but for your overall well being. Being uptight or ill at ease or just ‘uncomfy’ is not hygge.
My home is not a social gathering point – we very rarely have anyone round to visit other than the parents, and only entertain at Christmas time, but our home is very much our sanctuary and safe place. We are completely comfortable here, are relaxed and at ease with ourselves and each other. When the world outside is a dark and scary place *shout out to Theresa May and her evil cronies* we need somewhere to shut it/them out, relax, get comfy’ to coory in.
For me my favourite spot in our home is the dining table in the bay window. This is where I write and blog, where I prepare my week, where I sit to read or just watch the world from the comfort of my old chair (which actually belonged to my Husband’s Grandmother). It’s my space, my hyggekrog.
It is said that we, as a species, are social animals who thrive in groups. To some extent I both agree and disagree with this. Each to their own and very much dependant upon mood at the time. I love my own company and am very comfortable on my own. I also enjoy being in the company of a small group of friends. It’s the large gatherings that I find impersonal and greatly increases the chance of having to make painful small talk, thus making it far less comfortable than is preferred.
From The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking, it is recorded that the ideal number of people for a hyggelig gathering is 3-4. That sounds pretty ideal to me. Spending time, quality time with friends or family (if you get on with your family and enjoy spending the time with them) can be enormous fun, restorative and just plain makes us happy. The time spent in conversation, making food together, sharing in an activity, is personal and intimate. It’s deep foundations and bonds. It’s memories and belonging. It’s also being so comfortable that it is completely appropriate and acceptable to sit together in silence, lost in ones own thoughts without any awkwardness.
Hygge meets/gatherings may include board games, deep conversation (no politics, religion or controversy – the aim is to relax!), pot luck dinners, coffee &cake, book club, movie night, chillin out, fill in your own suggestions. They do not include Facebook checking and status updates, instagram opportunities, Twitter debates, bragging, showing off, general pain-in-the-arsery, etc etc. Before (A) arrived, a friend of our used to pop round every Thursday evening, and we worked our way through the box sets of Twin Peaks, one episode a week, with snacks and drinks and plenty chat. It was hygge and we didn’t know it. It was lovely and something we looked forward to. It’s also something I miss. *note to self to rectify*
The company we choose to keep extends further than our immediate group of family and friends. We are all part of our communities and as such, getting to know our neighbours and wider community can be valuable. Taking an active role in our communities is not really the norm here. Sure some people volunteer with the school PTA or help out the the Brownies or Scouts, but generally, most people leave community/civic duties and responsibility at the door step of the local council. Look and see how well that’s doing…. Community empowerment and involvement can really change a place for the better. The the people involved are committed to making a situation or locality better, being as they live there too. Getting involved, connecting with our communities all build into the hygge concept and is great for increasing well being and contentedness.
What happened to appreciating what we have rather than always striving for more? There is much to be said for being content, not for ‘settling’ but for appreciation and gratitude. In the slew of lists available online about things happy people do/have, one thing always appears on the list : gratitude. In today’s world, there is much to be said for appreciating what we have rather than constantly and always wishing for more,or misplacing the focus on what we don’t have.
Being content just to sloooooooow down from the business of being constantly busy, is super relaxing, especially if you are able to stop worrying about what your ‘should’ be doing. A change of mindset to appreciating the value and benefit of slowing down and not seeing the lack of busy as a waste of time is key. Switch off and enjoy the present, its good for your soul an your well being. De-stress. No multi-tasking, just focus on the art of chilling out – the mad rush of the to-do lists and social media dramas will still be there once your batteries are recharged. Your body will be thankful and appreciative of the peace.
To be content eliminates the need for competition – we do not have to constantly compete with others or with ourselves, just be free to be your authentic self.
It is said that we have lost or are in danger of losing our connection with nature; people are spending too little time outdoors. It is easy to get outside in the spring and summer with the nice weather, go to the beach, spend time in the garden, being sociable etc, but come the colder darker months and we want to hibernate. I have found that getting outside is even more important at this time of year – both for mental and physical reasons. I enjoy wrapping up to face the elements, taking a walk through the woods with (A) looking for conkers, crunching in the leaves, just taking in the beauty of the changing scenery – the colours and smells in autumn are spectacular. Even in winter there is hygge to be found playing in the snow (even if it brings the country to a standstill at rush hour) splashing in puddles. Find and release your inner child!
Connecting with other people is important, even if it is just the people/pets you share your home with. Coorying down on a miserable day with (A) looking at photo albums of years ago is something he enjoys, particularly Hubby and I’s wedding album and his own baby photos “awww I was such a cute baby” (he is very modest…). Saying hello to the neighbours in the street or to the person serving at the checkout (this works both ways, always helpful if cashier looks up, smiles and says hello too!). Reach out and phone the person you’ve been meaning to call or take time to go old skool and write a letter (with a mug of tea and some cake by your side) to a friend or relative instead of sending an email or text.
It is very hygge to dis-connect from the impersonal media of on-line communication. Switch off your mobile/Facebook/Twitter etc and be present, talk, cuddle, smile – look at the person you are with in the eye. Connection, physical connection and actually being there can make a huge difference to feeling connected to the world; your world.
This is a great time to also ‘connect’ with the seasonal festivities, such as Halloween or Christmas, making decorations, cooking/baking together, and that cliche of “making memories”, it’s a great way to while away the winter blues and spend time with those you love. The smells and scents of these days may trigger rosy childhood memories of your own and doesn’t nostalgia feel all cozy and nice?
While we are talking about connecting with other people and the seasons, we mustn’t forget to connect with ourselves. Time for self care in whatever way suits yourself: peaceful bubble baths with a glass of wine and a good book, exercising, journaling, going to the hairdressers, eating well, a marathon session on Netflix etc etc.
Who doesn’t enjoy good food? I’m not talking about expensive ingredients or complicated recipes, I mean real proper food that is both comforting and nourishing as well as tasty and indulgent. A home cooked meal is hygge, especially if prepared/cooked with others. A bowl of stick-to-your-ribs-soup with bread and butter or a plate of macaroni cheese for instance. Not expensive, even with a meagre budget, but bloody tasty and good for the soul. I find it particularly relaxing and calming, therefore hygge, to chop the veg for a pan of soup, or making gravy for mince, or mashing the potatoes for haggis neeps and tatties. Home baked cakes and cookies are also a winner. Traditionally, cinnamon rolls are baked and eaten in Denmark, I have yet to attempt to make these, but ginger bread (thank you Nigella Lawson), tablet and clootie dumpling are favourites at ours as are the cardamom cookies I tried out recently and will definitely be baking again.
Cooking for experiencing hygge is not restricted to dinners, a bowl of hot porridge with grated apple enjoyed in the comfort of the livingroom on the sofa with a blanket is particularly favourite hygge moment for me.
My 7 Cs are just that, mine – my interpretation of hygge; of coorying in and slowing down. There are of course other ‘C’ words association with living a hyggelig life, such as convivial, cordial, chocolate, celebration, Christmas, caring, closeness, co-operation, cake (pastries, but still…) and culture (a big shift – the Danes are repeatedly reported as being the happiest people in the world) for instance. So many feel good connotations attach themselves to hygge. For the more pessimistic amongst us, contrived, cheesey, corny, cringy and cutesy may be more appropriate. I say this as I look at the state of the country and the wider world as it stands currently : the UK with a far right verging on fascist Government / a too close to call US Presidential election campaign running between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton / the mess in Syria / refugees fleeing war zones / people in dire poverty in our own neighbourhoods with food banks trying to bridge gaps where the state fails / a lack of jobs – real jobs that can provide both food and shelter for the person working / the housing crisis and the increasing number of people finding themselves homeless /the social and financial divide further widening as the rich get richer and the less wealthy and poor becoming even more so / climate change is a reality and a frightening one and the list continues. It’s a pretty shitty state of affairs to be honest.
So why am I writing about being cozy and content and enjoying good food when a shit storm is raining down on the planet? Because hygge makes us feel good. It fuels happiness. Shutting the ugliness of the world out for 20 mins or for an evening to simply enjoy life, in whichever way; being able to just be in that safe place, to recharge, relax. We all need to find it and do it. Maybe if the world leaders had a bit more hygge and a bit less power trip the world wouldn’t be the selfish volatile unsettling place that it is. Perhaps hygge ought to placed on the agenda at the next G8 Summit in Italy next year, and on the G20 Summit agenda in Hamburg. Obviously the not discussing politics is a hygge step too far at such gatherings, but adopting the hygge approach of co-operation, community, fostering good will, trust and warmth among the nations would go some way in appeasing the ills of day.
It is important to note however, that this magnificent lifestyle shift making its way across the North Sea at a serious rate of knots, is not just for dark half of the year; no no, you can indulge and savour hygge in the spring showers and under the summer sun too. Picnics and barbeques with friends, camping trips and days to the beach, conversation and a cold glass or two in a beer garden, spending time in the garden weeding and planting and appreciating – it’s all hygge. It’s all how you frame it.
Essentially, embracing the simplicity and slow pace of hygge and deliberately integrating it into every day for a happier, more joyful, peaceful and ultimately, more content life. That’s my plan anyway.
So come on, candles are lit, the kettle is on, coory in.