The Danish tradition that could transform how you live
Aussies appear to have the leisure experience all wrapped up - backyard barbecues, lying on the beach - but it turns out we're amateurs compared to Danes. The Danish have elevated it an art form, and even have a unique name for it - "hygge".
Prounced (roughly) "hooga", the concept is hard to explain because there's no exact same word in English, but it roughly translates to "coziness".
"Living cosily", or creating a warm atmosphere (especially for guests), is a national preoccupation in Denmark. Conversations often surround whether something is "hygge" or not, or how to incorporate more "hygge" into an upcoming event, and discuss whether they've had a 'hyggelit' (hygge-like) time afterwards. Winter is high time for hygge in Denmark - open fires are very hygge, snuggly jumpers are hygge - and there's no time more hygge than Christmas, when Danes pull out all the stops. But summer activities can be hygge too - a walk in the park, a street festival, a picnic brunch.
Hygge is as much a state of mind as it is about things - Danes unashamedly prioritise their comfort, wellbeing and happiness (and unsurprisingly, surveys show they are consistently the happiest nationality on earth). But we can start to get a flavour of the tradition by incorporating some hygge, and its famous warmth, into our homes.
1. Embrace candlelight
Haven't considered using candles at home? Might be time to. Danes take pleasure from the presence of gentle, soothing things, and candles to a Danish home are like a trampoline to the Aussie backyard. Almost every home in Denmark uses candlelight for everyday and special occasions - in fact they burn more candles per head than anywhere in Europe.
Why not dip a toe in the water, so to speak, and pick out a gorgeous scented candle to light while you have a bath? Use citronella candles in beautiful glass jars outside at your next outdoor party. Arrange tea light candles in pretty clusters around the house at your next indoor gathering (keep out of reach of children). Or light a candle in the middle of the table for a traditional romantic dinner. A bonus? Not only is candlelight relaxing, and saves you on electricity bills, it's awfully flattering too.
Along with candles, this is another one way to create instant hygge at home. Lavender oil is wonderful to use because its soothing, calming aroma helps guests feel relaxed. You can either use an oil burner to diffuse the pure oil, or try a spray like this one.
3. Focus on interior design
Perhaps because they spend so much time in their homes during the long winters, home decor and design is very important to Danes. We can't all make our homes look like a page out of an Ikea catalogue but a simple thing you can do is edit. Avoid being a pack rat and when you do bring something new in, do it with thought and intention. Your home is a reflection of you, and should be a source of pride. Danes are more likely to save up for a favourite design piece vs. buying a knock off or something they don't really like just because it's cheap.
4. Always offer your guests food and drink upon entering
The second question after "Hello, how are you" apon entering a Danish home is "When can I get you to eat or drink, we have....". It's a great way to show manners and is a caring and warm gesture. You should always have a few bottles of wine or beer, some emergency munchies, or at least offer tea and coffee when guests arrive.
5. Enjoy what you have
They say the grass is always greener, but a hygge home is the greenest to the owner. Enjoy and be proud of what you have. You may not have the biggest home or the newest furniture, but if your things are cared for, that's all that matters. Studies show a clear link between gratitude and wellbeing, and your sense of contentment in your home will, in turn, make your guests feel more comfortable too.
6. Keep it simple
Don't wait to invite guests over until you have created an elaborate 4 course meal. A simple wooden bread board topped with cheeses, some olives, fresh bread, a glass of wine, is all you need. Baking is another very hygge activity, and the smell of bread or a cake baking often accompanies a cup of tea in the Danish household. Don't forget to light a few candles!
7. Accept help
Don't invite your friends over just to have them sit there while you're busy in the kitchen. A true hygge home accepts help from guests, and a hygge time is very much a collaborative effort.
8. Create a space for yourself
When we are constantly running back and forth tidying up, running after kids or to acitivities, we never really pause and take time for ourselves - and that's become almost the norm.
Danes, however, do make an effort to take time out... just to have some tea, do yoga, read a chapter or two of a book. This is both vital and well-accepted in Danish culture; nobody considers a person who does this lazy. It's very Hygge just to pause and sit inside of yourself for a moment as they say, to 'let your soul catch up with your body'.
If you can, make a special chair or a room within your home to be your 'catching up place', and fill it with things that make you happy and calm - whether that's some beautiful scarves and pillows, a throw rug, some favourite books, a stereo or Ipod dock where you can put on soothing music. Change your thinking about 'me time'. Call it hygge time. And don't forget the candles!