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Hygge: How to say it, how to have more of it

Last Modified: January 08, 2022

Healthy Mind, Community


The Danish term, (pronounced “hoo-ga”) means different things to different people, but it’s about well-being and coziness at its core. The easygoing approach to living seems to increase happiness and kindness – particularly in the winter – and it’s essentially a prescription for a little pampering. Who doesn’t want more of that? Sarah Weaver, FNP-C, MSN, HN-BC, holistic nursing coordinator, integrative nurse practitioner, PPG – Integrative Medicine, tells us more about the essence of this intriguing concept.

Denmark, even with its dark, cold winters, is considered one of the happiest places in the world. In fact, Scandinavian countries in general rank high on the happiness scale.  This is a reflection of many things; They boast generous access to quality healthcare, free higher education, strong economies, extended parental leave, trusted governmental systems and high levels of reported well-being. But experts believe the Danes pull ahead of the rest of the pack primarily because of their pleasant mindfulness and built-in connection, found through hygge.

This Danish cultural phenomenon is being embraced around the globe because it involves making ordinary moments extraordinary, cherished and a point of connection with those you love. Hygge even made Oxford Dictionaries’ 2016 “word of the year” shortlist.  While there is no direct translation to English, we have a cluster of words to describe hygge: coziness, happiness, safety, connection with others and simplicity.

My great, great grandfather boarded a ship in Denmark in the 1880s, with hope of prosperity, peace and abundance in a new land. Like many immigrants, his journey was uncomfortable and perilous. I imagine him at the age of 12, standing on the deck of the boat scanning the ocean horizon hoping for a glimpse of Ellis Island and Lady Liberty. I am sure his mother spent many hours below deck imagining how to bring a sense of hygge to their new home, a homestead of 160 acres in windswept North Dakota. 

This legacy filled my childhood with hours spent by the woodstove snuggled up in a croqueted blanket with hot soup and great books. My relatives still move their furniture closer together in the winter, turn on soft lighting and chat about the virtues of one recipe over the other for hours.

Hygge is a choice to slow down and enjoy the simple things in life. In a world that wears business like a badge of honor, hygge is a welcomed respite. Shut off the TV, light a candle and linger over dinner. Rearrange the calendar and make time for gratitude, even in a time of dark and coldness. As we settle into the final weeks of winter, I invite you to join me in intentional downshifting. Get those hygge socks on, find yourself a cozy nook and invite some of your favorite people to join you for a treat.

7 ways to practice hygge
  • Wear something warm, wooly and cozy and read a book by the fire.

  • On a cloudy winter day, opt for candlelight instead of lamps and light fixtures.

  • Host a dinner party and have everyone bring a dish they made from scratch. Pastries in particular are encouraged. Don’t clear off the table right away. Just enjoy the conversation.

  • Find the softest blanket in the house and cuddle up for an old movie.

  • Spend a few hours sipping warm tea and hot chocolate and chatting with loved ones. No phones allowed.

  • Vow to shelve your worries for the day. They’ll be there waiting for you tomorrow. Just enjoy the peace of a quiet reprieve.

  • Find creative ways to incorporate natural design elements – flowers, branches, berries, etc. – into your décor. The sights and scents of nature have an organic calming effect.

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