Working for a language company, I often discover brilliant words in other languages that have no direct translation in English. To ‘rire dans sa barbe’ (French) means to laugh into your beard while thinking of something that happened in the past. Which I’m sure we’ve all done at some point. ‘Age-otori’ (Japanese) is to look worse after a haircut. Which we’ve also all been through, sadly. And, of course, the ultimate untranslatable word, which I know I use every time, but that’s because it’s brilliant: ‘backpfeifengesicht’ (German), meaning a face badly in need of a fist.
(It works both ways, incidentally – as I discovered a few years ago, trying to buy hayfever medication in Madrid. My attempt to directly translate ‘fever of hay’ into Spanish was met with blank looks, and I ended up leaving empty-handed and red-faced – and still red-eyed from the hayfever, to add insult to injury.)
But anyway. One of the best untranslatable words I’ve found is the Danish ‘hygge’. Partly because it’s a fun word to say – you pronounce it ‘hooga’ – but mostly because it’s much more than just a word; it’s a whole concept that basically embodies happiness. And it’s recently become kind of a big deal outside Denmark – so much so that Morley College in London are now including a module on it in their Danish language course.
So what is it? Denmark’s official tourist site, VisitDenmark.com, describes hygge as ‘creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people’. Which sounds amazing, and if Danish people make a habit of this, it’s no wonder the country came top in the United Nations’ World Happiness Report in 2013 and 2014 (and this year it came 3rd, which is still not bad). So I thought I’d share a few ways we can all enjoy hygge this winter, without leaving our cosy, comfy homes.
1. Invite friends over, just because
It’s not compulsory to have other people around to enjoy hygge, but really, is there anything better than a spontaneous evening in with good friends, especially when it’s cold and dark outside?
2. Put on your PJs and dressing gown – and fluffy slippers
I’m not ashamed to say that last Saturday, I arrived home at 4pm on a rainy, miserable afternoon, and changed immediately into my PJs before spending the rest of the day on the sofa with a cup of tea. And it was awesome.
3. Don’t overcomplicate
The secret to hygge is its simplicity, so don’t feel you have to prepare an elaborate meal, or do anything deep and meaningful. The easier the better.
4. Buy some candles
Because there’s not much cosier than candlelight.
5. Put the world to rights over a drink
There’s a pub near work that we used to go to all the time. It’s a bit of an old man pub, but we’ve had some brilliant and memorable nights there, tucked in a corner talking about everything under the sun. In fact I think it might be time for a return visit…
6. Turn off the computer
She says, typing a blog post on her laptop. But hygge means putting the technology away and enjoying the simpler pleasures life has to offer. So as soon as this post is finished, I’ll do that. Promise.
7. Don’t rush off after dinner
What’s the hurry? Stick around, help clear up, have a drink, have a chat. Hygge means forgetting your busy life and all the things you need to get done, and just relaxing and enjoying yourself. And if you’re the host, don’t get offended if people don’t want to leave – it’s a compliment, after all.
8. Get a cat
I looked after my friend’s cat for a week last Christmas and I have to say, those evenings when he’d come and curl up on my lap while I was watching TV were pretty blissful. There are a lot of practical, sensible reasons why I’ve decided not to get a cat of my own, but every now and again I remember that week and have to really remind myself what they are. (First and foremost being I’d never get any work done.)
9. Do something you love
The main point of hygge is to spend time doing something you love, and that makes you happy. Read a book, watch a movie, listen to music, paint something, cook something, go for a run – whatever helps you relax and get away from it all, for as long or short a time as you like.
10. Make your home hyggeligt
Making your home ‘hyggeligt’ requires just a few simple touches. Get some blankets and cushions, add a fluffy rug, put up some fairy lights, and don’t worry if the place isn’t spick and span – the important thing is comfort, not elegance.
For more ideas and inspiration about hygge, I recommend the fantastic blog, Hello Hygge.
What’s your idea of hygge?