Hygge: The Danish Concept That Can Help You Survive Winter

Photo: Meghan Greeley Definition: hygge.co

In his new, exceedingly optimistic documentary Where to Invade Next, Michael Moore travels around Europe, adopting progressive and beneficial ideas to bring back to America. He covers a slew of interesting topics that tackle societal and political ills, yet there are plenty of practices not mentioned in the film that are just as worthy of introduction to this side of the Atlantic.

Denmark indeed has the cure for winter ailments, long successfully battling gray skies, harsh winds, bitter chills, and endless hours of darkness better than the rest. This belief, this mindset, this strategy to combat winter is worth incorporating into your life instantly (even if winter isn’t really winter in most places in North America at the moment).

It’s called ‘hygge’, and like most awesome European things, it’s hard to pronounce and directly translate (try saying ‘hoo-gah,’ then Denmark-ify it). It’s also hard to describe, mainly because it’s more so a state of mind and heart and less an actual thing or action. The two closest English words that offer a good start to understanding this positive attitude are ‘warm’ and ‘cozy’.

This nationwide custom in Denmark starts at home but extends to every part of social life and community. It’s a positive, enduring spirit that literally and figuratively warms your spirit, be it enjoying a morning in a café with some friends, curling up at home with a book, or going out to dinner with family. It’s about pleasantries and warmth, pushing away that which is annoying, aggravating, and emotionally and mentally draining. The word was reportedly first used back in the 18th century, a derivation of a Norwegian word meaning ‘well-being’.

The Danes are experts when it comes to well-being; they don’t fight their surroundings, but rather embrace them. Regularly lauded as the happiest country on Earth, they focus on positivity and enjoyment in every aspect of life – their Laundromats are also coffee shops! They have a whole research institute dedicated to happiness; they don’t underrate it like it seems so many other cultures do.

And while this may seem rather straightforward, effort needs to be made to create a positive, warm, friendly environment, especially in winter. Hygge is at its height in Denmark around Christmas, which holds true in North America too, even if we don’t know that we’re doing it. Come January, though, winter depression starts to creep in, and no longer does it seem that magic lingers in the snow flakes as festive lights are taken down and the promise of presents disappears.

So as winter lingers – inconsistent to be sure, though still looming regardless of what meteorologists and groundhogs say – it’s important to stay positive, happy, and healthy. Here’s how we can do it.


Preferably, by finding a sauna. With some frequency. We regularly underrate these Nordic wonders of comfort and warmth. Invented and championed by the Finnish, saunas are popular retreats for those surrounded by the chill of winter, and countries around the world have adopted them. For the Nordic, it’s part of daily life, much more accessible and available. So try to do as they do, which may mean escaping to a spa – which may also mean that you might as well get a massage and your nails done while you’re there, too. One way to embrace hygge is to be pampered, balancing out whatever ills the winter may bring with attention paid to bodily restoration. Failing that, just take a bath: a hot bath. Bubbles are a good idea as well.

Change Your Home Space

Swap out abusive fluorescent lights for candles. Many, many candles. They are an essential part of hygge. Soft, natural glows will offer a warmer, more welcoming environment, pleasing to both the eyes and the soul. What’s more, break out the blankets and pillows at every opportunity. Tables and chairs can give way to sitting on the floor. And, of course, drinking mulled cider and maybe a hot toddy will help too. Sure, you can put on Netflix, but really try to resist as long as possible. Craft your home space with an emphasis on things natural and soft, and get ready to constantly be cozy.

Be Energy Efficient

With your energy, that is. While hygge embraces being around friends and family to share in a positive experience, it’s buoyed by the fact that the Danish inherently subscribe to this belief – everyone does it. Here in North America, we unfortunately have curmudgeons, complainers, and malcontents with which to contend, and they can be enough to sap your energy and positivity, no matter how strong your force is within. And in the winter, when it’s already just a bit more difficult to summon the strength to venture forth through inclement variables, don’t convince yourself that the prospect of being with any people is better than being with no people at all. Take care to select those special people with whom to spend time and energy, and set aside time to spend with yourself, which will help you recharge and focus.

Embrace Nature

Hygge is not simply something that takes place indoors. Now, it stands to reason that whipping winds and the subsequent chill aren’t particularly hygge, but that doesn’t mean that you should only stay inside. There will indeed be the right time to venture out ­– a perfect cold day when the sun may still be in the sky, or snow may be falling and nature is picturesque. Or at the very least, it’s refreshing. Winter malaise endures because we trap ourselves under a roof: so go to the beach, the park, the forest. Find those green places made less so by winter, and find your own warmth in something that isn’t electronic or plugged in.

Read, Draw, Paint, Craft

Yes, again ­– get away from electronics. Far away. At least for a set amount of time. I know it’s hard, but it’s a necessity during winter when we’re so inclined to curl up in front of a TV to binge watch an entire season of some series we’re supposed to like. In fact, binging on anything is emphatically not hygge (even if you’re marathoning episodes of The Killing or The Bridge).

Be creative, and create time to do so, which itself may be its own task. You can spare an hour away from texting, Tindering, and liking posts on Facebook. And when you are enjoying some artistic escapes, find solace within yourself and not through others observing and approving. Your bed definitely is hygge, but when you’re in your bed, take some time to relax and get cozy without turning to your phone constantly. Turn off your computer.


So the goal thus is to adopt hygge in the western hemisphere where we’re not, for reasons beyond understanding, already inclined to create such warm and fuzzy social spaces ­– we can barely do it at home, for that matter, because even ‘Netflix and chill’ doesn’t actually mean Netflix and chill. It’s not enough to simply want something; make a concerted effort to change your immediate world, and soon you will reap the benefits.

Anthony Marcusa
Anthony Marcusa is a Toronto-based freelance journalist whose writing dabbles in film, TV, music, sports, and relationships – though not necessarily in that order. He’s simultaneously youthfully idealistic and curmudgeonly cynical. But he’s always curious.

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