There’s a reason Denmark consistently ranks among the happiest nations in the world. Many put it down to ‘hygge’ – the Danish concept of cosiness that became a huge lifestyle trend a few years back. But what is hygge? And how can it benefit your mental health? 28th February is International Hygge Day – so it’s the perfect time to find out.

Feeling cosy the Danish way

Hygge (pronounced HOO-ga) isn’t easily translated – but ‘cosy’ comes close. It’s a Danish noun that describes an atmosphere or a feeling: one of warmth, wellbeing and cosiness. The concept was popularised and brought to an international audience by books such as The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking. You may also have heard the UK’s greatest Dane, Sandi Toksvig, extolling the benefits of hygge on her Radio 4 programme Sandi Toksvik’s Hygge.

But hygge is more than a passing trend. It’s a way of life. A way of slowing down and focusing on life’s simple pleasures. It’s a form of self-care and mindfulness that can boost your wellbeing – even in the depths of a Scandinavian winter! It’s about living in the moment, taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things, and being grateful for the simple things in life that bring you joy. While hygge is sometimes used as an adjective as well as a noun, it’s more correct – and more Danish – to describe a feeling or activity as hyggelig.

Hygge can be a solo activity – think cocoa by candlelight! But you can also create it when you’re together with friends, family or other people you care about. And, while it can be an approach to life, it’s more about creating opportunities and the right conditions for hygge – even for just a moment (or a hyggestund).

Bringing a bit of hygge into our lives is even more important during difficult times. It’s a way you can unplug from the anxieties of the world and bring a sense of peace and calm. Something that’s even more important at the moment.

Hygge, self-care and mindfulness

Hygge is about more than hunkering down for the winter in a cosy, candle-strewn, be-blanketed fireside nook. And, although you’ll find plenty of articles about it in Scandi interior design magazines, it’s more about your state of mind than the state of your front room. Furthermore, while winter is peak hygge season, it can be created at any time of year.

Hygge overlaps with ideas of self-care, gratitude and mindfulness. From pausing to look after yourself – or to spend time with people you care about – to focusing on gratitude to living mindfully, hygge is about living a more intentional, joyful life. The Little Book of Hygge author Meik Wiking is also founder of The Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen – so he knows a thing or two about what makes us happy. And hygge is definitely one of them.

7 mental health benefits of hygge

It would, of course, be too simplistic to suggest that lighting a candle and eating a pastry is all you need to tackle major stress, anxiety or depression – difficulties for which therapy may be more helpful. But there’s more to hygge than that. And, to keep your mental health ticking over on a day-to-day basis, focusing on self-care and simple pleasures is a good place to start.

Furthermore, practising hygge is all about doing things we know are good for lowering stress and anxiety, and boosting feelings of wellbeing and happiness. It helps soothe your mind from the worries and anxieties of life, and brings a sense of comfort, calm and peace. The mental health benefits of hygge include:

  1. Gratitude. The mental health benefits of gratitude are well-documented. While one way to focus on things you’re grateful for is to keep a gratitude journal, hygge also helps you to be grateful for everyday things. Because it’s all about savouring simple pleasures.
  2. Self-care. Hygge is all about self-care, and carving out some ‘me time’. We often talk about creating a ‘self-soothing kit’, including such things as scented candles, cushions, calming music, and other things that bring you joy, peace and calm. That’s exactly what hygge involves.
  3. Mindfulness. The mindfulness aspect of hygge can be a particularly helpful one. Hygge encourages you to make the most of the moment. To focus on your immediate surroundings, and take pleasure in the now.
  4. Lower stress. It’s important to learn how to manage stress. Hygge can help you de-stress by giving yourself a break, and focusing on your senses and surroundings – and enjoyable activities.
  5. Reduced anxiety. If you can bring a sense of calm and peace into your living space, it will help reduce anxiety and boost your feelings of security and wellbeing. If you struggle with anxiety, it can help. You may also want to try our Self-care course ‘Manage Anxiety’.
  6. Greater connection. Hygge can also be thought of as the art of creating intimacy. It can be meeting friends for a cosy coffee, sugary buns and a chat. Particularly if the chat is about non-controversial topics (known as a hyggesnak).
  7. Happiness. All of these benefits also contribute to an overall feeling of happiness and wellbeing.

How to hygge: 10 ways to enjoy a more hyggelig life

Hygge is partly about unplugging and indulging yourself in a soothing environment – and partly a state of mind. Here are some things to try:

  1. Create a hygge nook. A hyggekrog is a nook of your kitchen or living room where you can sit and have a hyggelig time. Create a comfortable corner, with soft lighting and furnishings. You don’t need to win any interior design prizes – just create a ‘hygge zone’ where you can retreat and relax – and feel safe, secure and snug.
  2. Bring the outside in. You might think hygge is an indoor activity – and it often is. However, it’s very hyggelig to surround yourself with nature. Think wooden furniture, natural fabrics, plants and flowers.
  3. Light a candle. You can never have too many candles – especially if they’re scented! Or create a calming low-lighting effect artificially with lamps and shades that create the right ambience.
  4. Get comfortable. There’s a Danish word for those comfy jogging pants you’d never be caught wearing in public but secretly love: hyggebukser! Think too about cushions and blankets – anything that makes you feel comfortable.
  5. Indulge all your senses. Is your environment soothing to all your senses? How can you improve it? For example, look at a favourite photo, at the trees and flowers outside. Light a scented candle, eat something delicious, snuggle your pet or play soothing music.
  6. Switch off your phone. Hygge is about being present. That’s hard to do if you’re being pinged on WhatsApp or scrolling through Instagram. Take a break from being ‘always on’ by switching your phone off, or leaving it in another room for a while. A digital detox – even a mini one – is a great way to de-stress. And if you’re unreachable – even for a short while – you’ll pay more attention to your immediate surroundings.
  7. Do something you enjoy. Read a book, listen to music or chat with friends over coffee and cake. Maybe get creative, by writing a poem, sketching your family pet, or knitting a jumper! And you can enjoy hygge outside too: take a walk, observe nature, gaze at the stars.
  8. Cook an indulgent meal. Comfort food is very hyggelig. Cook something you love, which requires ‘slow’ cooking. Or treat yourself with a warm, comforting drink – like a cinnamon hot chocolate.
  9. Practise mindfulness. You may wish to practise mindful meditation in your hyggekrog. But try to be mindful – whether or not you’re meditating. This means really paying attention to the moment, your surroundings, your senses, and savouring simple pleasures. Anything from sipping your tea to cooking a meal to listening to music.
  10. Slow down – and enjoy the moment! Whatever you’re doing today, however busy you are, take a moment for yourself to take a break, slow down and enjoy your surroundings.

Hygge isn’t just for winter. It’s a great way to slow down, unwind and look after yourself at any time of year. And it’s accessible to all. Pursue small, simple pleasures every day – and you’ll enjoy a happier, more hyggelig life.