Getting Hygge With It: How Down with the Danes are You?

Originally published April 2017

I keep trying to pronounce it “hoo-ga” but I can’t help but say “higgy.”

Either way, I think I might need to move to Denmark.

The concept of “hygge” is not necessarily new, but Meil Wiking’s “The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living” is — and it’s a tidy read for anyone looking to throw off the shackles of a chaotic, materialistic, sad existence for a pair of warm socks and a mug of mulled wine.

In a nutshell, hygge is the Pottery Barn version of pleasure. Candles, lamps and soft textured blankets over a favorite overstuffed leather chair, in front of a roaring fireplace with a book in your lap make up the I Ching of Hygge. And while much of it is simply setting the scene (remember: CANDLES), the concept of hygge is centered on comfort and joy.

For hygge worshippers, Christmas is the Christmas of seasons. Slow cooking, warm hearths, sweaters over comfortable pants, and the sweets, MY GOD THE CAKES! — make the season worth enduring 11 other months of the year.

Given Wiking’s guidelines, I feel like I’ve been a practitioner of hygge without even knowing it. I have a favorite mug. I love being comfy indoors while watching a snowstorm outside. I’m all about coffee and chocolate and an intimate girls’ night in. And given the choice to work out or relax, you can find me on the couch snuggled alongside my dog with a book.

Are you hygge? If you …

  • Think high heels are for sadomasochists, you might be hygge.
  • Prefer cold weather to warm weather (More scarves!), you might be hygge.
  • Would rather make bolognese sauce with your BFF then go pub crawling, you might be hygge.
  • Order glogg instead of a Manhattan, you might be hygge.
  • Burn more candles than a Wiccan, you might be hygge.
  • Don’t see any problem with a venti after 4 p.m., you might be a hygge.

As it turns out, Chicago is a perfect place to hygge. Here are a few suggestions to give it a whirl:

Embrace the black. Danes wear lots and lots and lots of black. And that’s OK. It’s simplistic and easy to layer. Speaking of which, to hygge is to wear bulky sweaters and scarves with no pretension. Pile them on. It’s all about the comfort. As Wiking points out, “You can’t hygge when you are cold.”

Shop vintage. Easy peasy lemon squeezy in this town. To hygge is to experience nirvana finding the perfect piece to complete your required hygge nook at home — the aforementioned chair and blanket with a side table for your favorite mug of something warm to drink (hot chocolate = hygge, lemonade … not so much)

Eat comfortably, as in eat all your comfort foods. Hygge enthusiasts do not do salad. Enjoy a deep dish pizza during your weekly board game night with a handful of your closest friends. Oh yes, and don’t forget to …

Make connections. Hygge is all about being with people you love, doing hygge things like meeting for coffee after a long walk on a rainy Sunday morning, or potlucking it with your neighbors on a Friday night. This could be the toughest part of the Danish tradition, as the requirement is less about meeting acquaintances and more about established close family and friendships. You want that “thirtysomething” feeling once you are married and have kids? Start now with your neighborhood frisbee golf league.

Aside from the obsession with candles, maybe the most important requirement of hygge is to be present to experience comfort, and then to be grateful for it. Being present is increasingly difficult these days, given politics-induced anxiety (“What is going to happen next?”), sports-induced anxiety (“Yes, but can the Cubs win it all AGAIN?”), work-related anxiety (“Can you stay until 8 tonight to finish up that report? Thanks!”) and family-induced anxiety (“But my child has to go to college!”). But if you can’t dial the stress back, you can’t get to the heart of hygge, which is that comfort in the here and now.

Go grab a blanket, a mug and a book and get that hygge on. You’ve earned it.

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