Living in harmony with nature is one of many ways the Nordic folk enjoy the hygge lifestyle in its simplest form.
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When I first learnt the Norwegian language over 10 years ago, I noticed something. Among a whole bunch of words that are used to speak of comfort, friendliness, warmth and many positive adjectives, the Norwegian people (and their Danish neighbors, separated by only a strait) have a particular interest in the usage of the two adjectives hyggelig and koselig. These words are so frequently used in almost any situation and often as catchphrases as long as what is said is meant to indicate something fun.
At the beginning I used those words without much thought, mostly as a linguistic habit that one can only simply explain it as “it’s the way it is!” Later when I had been living in Norway for quite some time, I started to understand the words with deeper meanings and gradually embraced the hygge lifestyle of the Nordics.
What is Hygge?
Hygge (pronounced hue-geh) is a noun in Norwegian, which originally meant well-being or hug. When adding the -lig suffix, it becomes hyggelig, an adjective that means healthy or cheerful. This is the reason why when Norwegians first meet, after greetings and name introductions, they would exclaim “Hyggelig!” which means “Nice to meet you!”
Moving to the south, i.e Denmark, hygge and hyggelig have a completely different meaning, indicating meaning towards happiness and warmth (noun) or happy and warm (adjective). And it was the Danes, not the Norwegians, who made the concept of hygge known all over the world as the hygge lifestyle of the Nordics. Today, the word hygge has become so popular that one does not need to find an equivalent word in English, but makes direct use of the original Danish word.
The hygge lifestyle is not restricted to Denmark as most Nordics generally enjoy life in this simple fashion. How they call it can differ. In Norway – the original “home” of hygge – today is called koselig. For the Swedes, the hygge spirit is expressed by the adjective trevlig of the same meaning.
Hygge from within the home…
The North-Western climate has been known to have five winter months a year, with dreary nights of snow and days without the sun. The houses there are built to be the warmest and safest places for people to live in and to survive the long bitter cold months.
The traditional house of the Nordics are built of pine, with walls nearly 50cm thick, enough to insulate the house. The exterior can be painted in color, but the interior is usually rough wood paneling. This is the most basic element to create the hygge spirit for a home in cold lands: the roughness of the pine wood, the light brown of the wood combined with the golden light is enough to create a cozy space within the home.
Before my family moved to a suburban area in Oslo (Norway), we used to live in an apartment right in the heart of the bustling city. We had been accustomed to the convenience provided by modern apartments, and therefore were worried about the move. The house which we bought from my uncle was built 30 years ago. However, after spending our first winter in the small suburban house, my husband and I decided that we no longer missed our previous comforts.
When autumn comes and brings along with it the sad rain, people start preparing firewood for the fireplace. The firewood is split into small logs, and usually stored on the side of the house next to the garage, with a roof to prevent rain from wetting the wood. As the temperature begins to drop to 0ºC, people begin to light fires in their fireplace, usually in the afternoon when everyone in the family has arrived home and is waiting for dinner. After a hearty meal, the whole family would gather around the burning fireplace, drinking coffee or hot cocoa, unconcerned about the snow falling thick outside. This is considered a wonderful evening and there is no need for anything but peisekos – the happiness of sitting beside the fireplace.
… Hygge out in the street
Sweden consumes the second most coffee in the world, ranking only after Finland. The Danes and Norwegians are no less in rank as both made it to the top 10 list of most coffee consuming countries in the world. So in big cities, at every corner you will find a café.
Unless they are international coffee houses with franchises of the same name and style in every corner of the world, a true Nordic café would always provide a warm, hygge feel when you enter the door.
Those small café shops are usually located inside old buildings in old parts of the town with low ceilings, dim lights and beveled floors so old that they squeak when you step foot on them. The shop otherwise would be of a small space, just enough for several sets of tables and chairs indoor, and several more out at the front.
One winter day many years ago, my family had a weekend outing in Copenhagen, Denmark. After getting tired of walking the streets, we found a small café in a street corner so small that, today, I cannot remember at all how we found it. I could only remember the moment when I pushed the door in to meet the atmosphere inside the café which was surprisingly comfortable, nothing like what you would expect when you walked into a strange café in a strange city. The feeling was like coming home and opening the door into your own kitchen. You could smell the hot coffee that someone has just made and they were waiting for you. Drinking a hot cup of coffee with a loved one in a strange-but-familiar café as such, isn’t it already so hyggelig?
Four seasons hygge
Norwegians have a saying: “There is no bad weather, only clothing not suitable”, which implies that you can feel comfortable in any season, as long as you wear the right type of clothes. And so when there is a rainy day, people would go into the woods picking mushrooms, or during long winter months sit hours and hours by the icy lake to fish!
Living in harmony with nature is one of the many Nordic ways to enjoy the hygge lifestyle in its simplest form. During the twelve months of the year, there is always a reason for people to go outdoors. Even with winter as the harshest season, they would go out for a coffee with their friends or play snow sports to pull themselves out of the house, indulging themselves in a wide range of physical activities and simply breathing in the fresh air.
Living in the suburbs for a while has made me notice something very interesting: in the summer, the supermarkets here hardly sell any berries like strawberries or raspberries. It was not until after some time that I realized that these delicious fruits grow wild in the woods, even among the bushes along the streets. Why buy in the supermarkets, when you can hand-pick them delicious, fresh and, especially, for free!
Autumn often arrives with endless rain, prompting the Nordics to simply laze around the house looking out on the porch, leisurely sipping cup after cup of aromatic coffee and enjoy delicious homemade jelly sandwiches. This simple happiness is called hygge.
7 ways to embrace the hygge lifestyle like a true Nordic
You don’t have to be a Nordics or live in Northern Europe tol create a hygge lifestyle. Simply follow these steps.
1. Spend time with family
The Nordics place great importance on time spent with family. If you go out to dinner, it must be very special occasions such as a wedding or some other event. No matter how busy you are, always try to come home to have dinner with your family.
2. Cook at home
Besides having dinner with your family, cooking at home is also a sure way to help you connect with your family members. Cooking with your mother or your children, especially the young, make it a fun time.
3. Immerse yourself in nature
If you live in the city and cannot afford to go to the woods or the beach regularly, you can instead take a weekend walk in the park and in the early morning breathe in fresh air, or camp somewhere near the city with your friends.
It could be a morning walk, a bike ride to the market instead of riding a motorbike, swimming on a hot day, or simply using the stairs instead of the lift if you just need to go up a few floors.
5. Limit the use of electronics and Read on a rainy day
Cut down on watching TV, use fewer electronic devices, especially during family meals. Instead, read a book, read newspapers, or simply talk to people around you. On cold rainy days, there is nothing better than rolling in a blanket, reading your favorite book and drinking a cup of coffee or hot cocoa.
6. Re-decorate the house in minimalist style
If you cannot re-decorate the entire house, at least keep your bedroom in Scandinavian minimalist style. An airy room will make you feel more relaxed and improve your sleep quality.
7. Always think positive
Of course, there will be times when you feel depressed, frustrated, tired and countless other negative emotions. At those moments, instead of focusing on what makes you sad, look at things in a positive light, such as what lessons were there to learn.