Hygge can help combat winter blues

Hygge is a Danish seasonal tradition that literally translates to “coziness.” Pronounced “hoo-gah,” it has become a popular way to alleviate winter blues in Denmark and around the world. Hygge is fuzzy blankets, hot cocoa by the fireplace or a board game with friends to make the dark days of winter light again.

The word “hygge” originates from the Norwegian word “hugga,” which means “well-being.” The Danish took this term in the 18th century and integrated it into their culture as a way of life, according to Visit Denmark

Elements of hygge include soft, fluffy blankets, ambient lighting, pillows and a hot, comforting beverage. Photo by Christina Swayney.

Research on hygge has found that in Denmark, it’s integral to people’s sense of well-being. It acts as a buffer against stress, while also creating a space to build camaraderie, according to “Money Can’t Buy Me Hygge: Danish Middle-Class Consumption, Egalitarianism, and the Sanctity of Inner Space,” a 2011 article by Jeppe Trolle Linnet.

The hygge tradition has grown in popularity in the U.S. in the past few years and can be seen in practice on social media sites such as Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. 

There are many ways to achieve hygge in daily life, according to Jessica Payne, an associate professor at the University of Notre Dame who specializes in how sleep and stress influence human memory and psychological function, and Pia Edberg, a hygge expert and author of “The Cozy Life: Rediscover the Joy of the Simple Things Through the Danish Concept of Hygge.” Payne and Edberg put their knowledge together in a 2018 article in Elle Magazine called “How to Achieve Peak Coziness, According to Two Cozy Experts.”

There are a few ways to make life cozier, according to Edburg. The texture is important in furnishings or clothing. A fuzzy blanket, a soft rug when the floorboards are ice cold or a soft oversized scarf to brave the cold winter air can bring coziness throughout the day. 

Light is another way to cheer up dark days and warm a room visually. In Sweden, where hygge is also practiced, “Lucia” is a festival of candle lights takes place on Dec. 13 each year. This 400-year-old tradition is a way to bring a “source of light and good cheer in Scandinavian countries,” according to a 2017 WTTW PBS article called “How Swedes Celebrate the Darkest Time of the Year.”

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Some ways to lighten winter darkness with hygge are candlelight or warm tinged light bulbs instead of cold fluorescent light, fairy lights and the light of a fireplace or fire pit. Edburg also suggests spending less time looking at the computer or phone screens, especially before bedtime. 

“The last thing you want people to do is lay there stressing out and scrolling through their phones,” Edburg said in the Elle Magazine article. 

Edburg also believes that personal connections are important during winter, as opposed to connections on the internet.

“One of the biggest things we can do, especially with the digital age distracting us, is deliberately creating connection and time with our loved ones we haven’t spent time with in a long time,” Edburg said in the article.

Although it is a big part of the tradition, hygge is not just about physical things, like candles, blankets, hot drinks and cozy socks, according to Jeppe Linnet, an anthropologist who researches hygge. 

“Hygge and its emphasis on slowing down, taking time to be grateful for the little things and being in the present moment is the antidote to that [stress in daily life],” Linnet said in a 2018 Telegraph UK article called “The Definitive Guide to Health, Happiness, and Hygge.”

A comprehensive list of books about Hygge is available on GoodReads, including Louisa Thomsen Brits’The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Well,” in which she describes what hygge is to her. 

“Hygge is about having less, enjoying more; the pleasure of simply being. It is generous and celebratory, a way to remember the importance of the simple act of living itself,” Thomsen said in her book.