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Hugs & Hygge

“Danish doctors recommend ‘tea and hygge’ as a cure for the common cold.”


Hygge, pronounced ‘hooga’, is a Danish word described by the country’s tourist board as their “art of coziness”, but, they add, it means a lot more than that. “There’s no real translation into English,” British ex-pat Richard Steggall tells CBS. “It is a Danish phenomenon. It is a Danish thing.” Owing to the country’s northern positioning, a large chunk of the year comprises long, dark evenings, “And hygge, this sense of bringing light and warmth and friendship into a house, it’s trying to make things cosy and happy”.


Rather than be defined, hygge is supposed to be experienced. It can be the warm glow of candlelight, or the friendships and food that ‘illuminate the soul’. It can be marshmallows dunked in hot chocolate, or reading a good book wrapped in a thick wool blanket while curled up on a beanbag — everything that would suit many Kiwis down to the ground. And so, the question must be posed, does hygge explain why the Danes are among the happiest people on Earth? That’s not just anecdotal, in 2016 Denmark topped the United Nations’ World Happiness Report for the third time, fending off competition from 155 other nations, many of which boast tropical beaches and far better weather. This year their contentment crown was stolen by their Scandinavian neighbours Norway — who perhaps pilfered their hygge too (the expression does actually stem from a 16th-century Norwegian word that means to ‘comfort’ or ‘console’). They wouldn’t be the first. The cosy philosophy has swollen into a global phenomenon — there’s even a London college that teaches it as part of their Danish language course, and it made the shortlist for Oxford Dictionaries’ ‘word of the year’.


“Hygge can be used as a noun, adjective, verb, or compound noun, like hyggebuster, otherwise known as that shlubby pair of pants you would never wear in public but secretly treasure,” writes Anna Altman in the New Yorker. “… It’s wholesome and nourishing, like porridge; Danish doctors recommend ‘tea and hygge’ as a cure for the common cold.”


In the USA, fabric and wallpaper company Hygge West proffers cheerful, feel-good designs, while a bakery named Hygge in Los Angeles offers plenty of bonhomie along with sticky Danish treats. Around the world, bookstore shelves bulge with tantalising tomes such as The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets of Happy Living; Hygge: The Nordic Secrets to a Happy Life; and The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Contentment, Comfort and Connection.


As snug as this all sounds, it should be practised with as much aplomb when the sun is shining as when it snows. “While winter is the obvious time for all things hygge, Danes practise this concept year-round,” Meik Wiking, CEO of Copenhagen’s Happiness Research Institute, and author of The Little Book of Hygge, tells Country Living. Summer ideas include picnics in the park, backyard dinner parties, beach bonfires and outdoor movie nights. “But if you want to be truly hygge,” he says, “just remember to appreciate the simple things that bring joy to your life.”


Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces