If you are late to the party, as I chronically am, you may not have heard about the Danish term hygge (pronounced hue-guh), which, loosely translated, means “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” And if you’re not late to the party, first of all, TEACH ME YOUR SORCERY, and second of all, WHY HAVEN’T YOU TOLD ME ABOUT THIS YET?
I first came across the concept (or at least paid attention to it) last week when I stumbled upon an article discussing why a comfortable environment is crucial for teachers to implement in their classrooms and how to achieve it. And I’ve got to tell you: As someone obsessed with ambiance, I couldn’t resist the temptation to research it. (I mean, I detest restaurants that have spotlights above the tables and insist upon cozy surroundings in my own, albeit messy because 3 kids, home, so this was right up my ambiently-lit alley).
So I dove in. And what I learned is that while there is no way to accurately express what hygge, a critical component of Danish culture, really is, and there is next to no one who has yet to thoroughly replicate it in the US, it is possible to at least mimic some of the core principles of this concept in our decidedly non-hyggeligt (<– that’s the adjective form of the word) society.
Essentially, the first thing to understand about hygge is that it is a feeling, not a thing. As the creators of Hygge House state:
You can’t buy a ‘hygge living room’ and there’s no ‘hygge foods’ to eat. Hygge literally only requires consciousness, a certain slowness, and the ability to not just be present – but recognize and enjoy the present.
Hygge, as it applies to Danish culture, is also a very social concept, meaning it typically involves feeling at peace and comfortable with others. But rejoice, fellow introverts, because this doesn’t mean you can’t practice hygge or feel hyggeligt alone. As long as you’re willing to embrace the mindset required to achieve it, you can get your hygge on regardless of whether you’re with company or flying solo.
With the understanding that hygge is not tangible, there are a few things you can do to achieve it. First of all, you need to make your environment (whether it is your home or your workspace) as welcoming as possible. This means including things that normally elicit contentment — things like natural or soft lighting, comforting tunes, pleasant aromas, and aesthetically pleasing accoutrements (I just wanted to use the word “accoutrements”). Basically, whatever it is that makes you and others sharing your space feel warm and cozy and at peace is what you should include. And most importantly? You need to free your mind to embrace it. EMBRACE THE HYGGE.
Once I had a basic (though admittedly novice) understanding myself, I got to work.
My first order of business? Get my classroom as hyggeligt as possible. I already had floor lamps in there to offset the horror that is flourescent lighting. (Side note: Did you know that flourescent lighting actually makes the brain angry and agitated? True story.) But I wasn’t using them regularly enough, and the few I did have didn’t provide enough light for those dark and dismal winter days. So I added more, turned off those grotesque overhead lights, and opened the window shades.
Next, I Googled “streaming fireplace” and slapped a 10-hour YouTube recording of just a fireplace burning onto the Smart Board. I also added some battery-operated, flickering candles into the mix and one of those Plug-Ins with a subtle but pleasing aroma.
Then, I rearranged the desks into a more socially-appealing formation (bye-bye, rows) and streamed some classical music from Pandora over my speaker system.
Finally, I freed my mind. Really focused on enjoying the moment. The here and now. Let my senses absorb my surroundings and the people sharing it.
And you know what? I FEEL ZEN AS FUCK. So do (many of) my students. (Don’t tell them I said “fuck.”) I literally haven’t wanted to stress-punch anything in like a week, and as someone with raging anxiety, that’s saying a lot.
And if you think I’m stopping there, you are wrong. My next order of business is to hygge-up my home. It’s already pretty comfy (to me, anyway), but there are a few corners of my living room that could use a candle or two, a nook here and there that desperately needs some fairy lights, and a fireplace that hasn’t seen any action in ages. And then I’m going to channel all that stress and anxiety out, throw on some sweet jams, and spend some quality time with the ones I love in our new, hyggeligt diggs.
WE’RE GONNA BE SO HYGGELIGT, EVEN HYGGE IS GONNA BE LIKE, “DAMN, THAT’S SOME GRADE A HYGGE UP IN THERE.”
I’m on a mission, people. I’ve gone hygge, and there’s no turning back. And if you know what’s good for you and your mental health, you should totally join me.
So light a candle (or whatever brings you peace) and get your mind right. I promise you won’t regret it.