What is Hygge?

Oct 18 2019

Serene Spy

4 min read

Christmas cosy candles

Hygge (pronounced Hue-guh) is a Danish concept that came into fashion in the UK in the slipstream of Scandi noir TV shows, around 2015. It is invariably illustrated with candles, home-knits and mugs of hot chocolate and has spawned an entire sector of book publishing and social media. For the Danes, hygge is a way of being that is rooted in their culture (and weather) - it is also said to be the reason why Denmark is always in the top three happiest countries in the world (along with decent health care and high standards of living).

So what is hygge - and where can we get some?

“The true essence of hygge is the pursuit of everyday happiness and it’s basically like a hug, just without the physical touch,” says Meik Wiking, the author of The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets To Happy Living, and CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen.

In his book, Wiking explains that you know hygge when you feel it – very important point: hygge is a feeling - but that some of the key ingredients are togetherness, relaxation, indulgence, presence, and comfort. In some interpretations, hygge shares something with the Buddhist idea of self-compassion – especially mindfulness presence and awareness - packaged more commonly for us in the West as self-care and well-being. For others, it’s about eating a lot of sugary food.

The pursuit of everyday happiness is important: it’s the little comforts and rituals that count. One of the most obvious small everyday acts of hygge is lighting a candle. One hygge-phile suggested doing this at breakfast: candlelit cornflakes anyone?

Wiking also pinpoints the downsides of hygge life. “Danes are not good at inviting new people into their friendship circles. In part, this is due to the concept of hygge; it would be considered less hyggelig if there were too many new people at an event. So, getting into a new circle requires a lot of effort and a lot of loneliness on the way.”

Hygge is cute and cosy, nurturing and cocooning, but also exclusive, insular and a tad xenophobic. The concept of hygge is sometimes traced back to Denmark’s loss of territory in the 18th and 19th centuries: a turning inward, pulling up of the drawbridge. No wonder it is popular in the UK today.

We Brits have translated hygge into a more feel-good lifestyle and design concept that may or may not inspire emotional contentment (in the 80s, it was feng shui, in the 90s and 00s minimalism, repackaged now as "lagom"). For us Brits, hygge only kicks in around Autumn and Winter. The bleak, drizzly Danish weather, so picturesquely captured in their crime dramas, is vital to good hygge: you wouldn’t want to cosy up around a fire if you were in the Maldives, would you?

“Danes created hygge because they were trying to survive boredom, cold, dark and sameness,” writes blogger Alex Beauchamp on her gorgeous website Hygge House (if you want a dose of hygge, browse through hyggehouse.com).

Log fires, blankets, hot chocolate or a cup of coffee and cosiness are important components of hygge, but so are other people (nice people, and not strangers). Proper Danish hygge is perhaps less self-indulgent than our version, more about family and loved ones gathering around said fires in above mentioned knitwear. Conviviality is key: there seems to be a tactic agreement among Danes that if you are doing hygge (trans. playing happy families), there can be no moaning. Not sure how that would work in our household: teens holed up in their bedrooms playing Fortnite as parents watch Scandinavian dramas while working through a bottle of wine* downstairs is as near-hygge as it gets for this Spa Spy.

*ideally mulled and accompanied by pastries.

How to Hygger (yes, it’s a verb, too)

Hygge treatments: Our top hygge treatment is the Weaver’s Hug at super cosy Weavers' House Spa in Lavenham, Suffolk. Plus, any treatment with hot stones - try Rocks of the Mediterranean Massage at Utopia Spa, Alexander House Hotel. Or the Spa De-stress Hot stone treatment at The Spa at South Lodge.

Hygge food: Now is the time to opt for a cream tea rather than a heathy salad lunch. Think comfort food. We love the elegantly traditional Beaverbrook Afternoon Tea with an Asian twist (Duck egg and Shiso cress mayonnaise on tomato bread, buttermilk scones, and Pistachio, White Chocolate & Rhubarb Éclair, anyone?) served in the cosily eccentric Dining Room.

Hygge décor: Dormy House (pictured above) is a cosy home from home – if your idea of home is a gorgeous Cotswold’s farmhouse with plenty of crackling fires, cosy chairs and a beautifully warm and Scandi inspired spa (ours is!). Bubble away in the outdoor hot-tub next to a fire encased in the honey-stone wall; snuggle up in the hot, dark Lavender sauna; gather around the fireplace in the Greenhouse lounge with a Vegan hot chocolate.

Sauna hygge: Surely the ultimate Scandi-hygge experience, we loved the swing seats in Low Wood Bay’s baking hot sauna with its lakeside views (pictured above), never mind the warm outdoor infinity pool, and outside-in inspired décor which uses tree trunks and natural materials.

Hygge firelight: ESPA at Lucknam Park is all light, glass and honey-hued Cotswold stone. Cosy yet? Try swimming in a warm, clear 20-metre pool alongside a flickering ribbon fireplace. Snuggle up on a large outdoor sofa around a firepit at Cottonmill Spa at Sopwell House. Also very hygge: the hundreds of candles dotted around the stylish St Michaels Spa and Resort in Cornwall.

Drizzly hygge: As we said bleak, wet weather is a key element of that hygge feeling, as long as you are inside curled up in a cosy robe on a comfy lounger. The best places to experience dramatic weather in comfort are St Brides Spa Hotel, perched on a cliff on Saundersfoot Bay with floor-to-ceiling glass windows and a warm outdoor vitality pool. Source Spa and Wellness in Saunton Sands Hotel, North Devon has an infinity pool pressed against the glass wall dangling over three miles of golden sands lapped by the Atlantic Ocean.


Serene Spy

18th October 2019

Spy Likes:

Soft fluffy robes, imaginative vegetarian food, products that combine luxury with strong eco credentials and spas which look after their therapists’ wellbeing too.

Spy Dislikes:

Showers that aren't spotless, snootiness and having to get dressed for lunch.

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