By Jennifer Miles Davis
In around 1850, a handsome Danish sailor set sail for England on a flour boat. They docked in Bristol, and on his meanderings he met a pretty local girl with a twinkle in her eye. Smitten, he jumped ship and married her. They were my great great grandparents.
Being a sixteenth Danish may well be why I love Danish pastries, and could explain why I am equally smitten with the philosophy of hygge, the Danish art of being cosy. Hygge (sort of pronounced ‘huurgga’), is essentially the philosophy of snuggling up in front of a fire with candles, blankets, and a good book. (I’m pretty sure I invented that.) It also involves making good, heartwarming food to eat with family; having friends over for mulled wine; or going for a wintery walk wrapped in coats and scarves and ending up in a country pub. It is, then, simple, wholesome, nourishing, and warming.
It is thought, perhaps romantically, that hygge might be the origin of the English word ‘hug’ – now obsolete meaning of ‘hug’ is “to cherish oneself; to keep or make oneself snug”. In Denmark, hygge is so embedded within the culture that the language itself is peppered with it. “You hear hygge being talked about all the time,” says Meik Wiking, CEO of The Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen. “We talk about hygge things coming up that we’re looking forward to; we point out when something hygge is happening right now; then we like to talk about what a great ‘hyggelit’ (hygge-like) time we’ve had afterwards.” I reckon Wiking must have a very hyggelit life, being in charge of happiness research in the happiest country in the world.
Fundamental to the design of Hygge-ness is the lighting. Hygge is an antidote to the cold, dark winter; a survival strategy that stems from the need to overcome the dearth of natural light from October to March. But rather than overcompensating with bright shiny sun-replacements, The Danes go for the low, gentle glow of candles and firelight, enhanced by strategically placed lamps creating soothing pools of light. Brightness levels approaching a sunset is “your hygge sweet spot”, says Wiking in his book The Little Book of Hygge.
But hygge is more than just lighting a few candles and putting a scarf on – it is an artform – a way of being – that penetrates the Danish culture. Danes are less materialistic the other nations and appreciate the simple things in life. They place importance on looking after themselves and each other, which leads to better mental health and greater life satisfaction. “Allowing ourselves some hygge time to boost our own wellbeing leaves us better placed to contribute and help others,” explains Dr Mark Williamson, Director of Action for Happiness.
Well, I don’t need any encouragement. I love the romance of winter, and will be embracing it for as long as possible. As Lewis Carroll wrote in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, “I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, ‘Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again’.” So, my friends, come on over, take a seat by the fire, here’s a glass of something warming and spicy, and here’s to a Hyggelit New Year!