If this is the first time you are hearing of hygge, prepare to hear it again. Hygge is gaining in popularity and was on Oxford Dictionary’s short list for 2016 Word of the Year. (The winner was post-truth.)
Pronounced hue-gah, hygge is the Danish word for coziness, but it includes so much more. Think soft slippers, candlelight, a carefully tended fire, wooden surroundings, deep discussions with close family and friends, cards and board games, hot cocoa, cake, and bacon. (Yes, bacon!) Hygge helps the Danes get through the long, cold winters, but it’s also a national concept that defines their way of life. In fact, the Danes are one of the happiest groups of people in the world. (Denmark is #3; the United States is #15.)
All of this sounds good, winter or not, especially the relaxing part. When I spent three years in Michigan, I think I got pretty good at hygge, though I didn’t have a name for it at the time. But since then, I’ve had two kids, now five and three years old. I know they’d like the cake and bacon part, but I’m not sure hygge could last for more than about five minutes with my rowdy crew. We might even burn the house down. (Open flames are generally frowned upon in my house.) I think we may try it, though. Maybe aim for an hour at first — after spending some time running around outside in the cold. Here’s my plan, and I’ll post an update after our first hygge experiment.
Novice Plan for Hygge with Kids
- Bake a cake in the morning with the boys. (This could probably be a hyggelig event in itself.)
- Spend some time running around in the cold.
- Have warm clothes and socks ready to change into. (I wish I had a towel warmer for this!)
- Leave with the house cleaned up so it will be relaxing to return to.
- Make sure candles and matches are ready.
- Have food ready to eat when we get back. (Will recruit husband to put bacon in the oven.)
- Use real glass and dinnerware instead of the scratched-up, plastic kid-ware.
- Turn on the gas logs (a rare event since the fireplace gets too hot for the kids to be near, in my opinion) and light the candles.
- Use sleeping bags, pillows, and blankets to create a cozy space for playing games and reading.
- No phones, iPads, or television.
- Slow down and be present.
Some Expert Advice
I am by no means a hygge expert — just a curious bystander, really — so we’ll see how this goes. If you want to learn more about hygge (from those who are truly qualified to tell you about it) I recommend listening to “Forget Your Troubles, Come On, Get Hygge” from NPR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook or reading The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking, founder and chief executive of The Happiness Research Institute.
I get the impression that true hygge is supposed to happen naturally — to be so ingrained in one’s culture and spirit that it’s done as a matter of course. As the translator and blogger ToveMaren Stakkestad wrote, “Hygge was never meant to be translated. It was meant to be felt.” So by even planning our hygge afternoon, I am probably way off. But you have to start somewhere, right? And certainly it’s good to be intentional in how we live. But, worst case, if hygge doesn’t work out for us, we’ll just go back to the usual: jumping around the house like Ninja Turtles.
We did it! Successfully, I might add. Here’s a link to my family’s Hygge Day story — Hygge with Kids: Our First Attempt.