Warm? Comfy? Cozy? You just may be a hygge enthusiast
What makes you feel cozy and comfortable?
Trading work clothes for sweats and thick socks?
Curling up under a plush throw with a good book and a cup of tea?
Having friends in for an evening of soft music and conversation?
If you're doing any of these things, you might be practicing "hygge" without even knowing it.
Some say "hoo-gah" and some say "hue-gah," but it's the Danish concept of creating a cozy, welcoming environment to eliminate stress and promote feelings of well-being and contentment. It can be employed in the home or the workspace, as well as in personal practices and relationships.
History of hygge
"Hygge" first appeared in the Danish written language in the early 1800s. It has cultural counterparts in the Norwegian "koselig," the German "gemütlichkeit" and the Dutch "gezelligheid."
Repeated studies have called Denmark the happiest country in the world , with the practice of hygge often pointed to as one of the principle reasons.
No wonder Copenhagen is home to the Happiness Research Institute , an independent think tank that explores why some societies are happier than others. The institute also encourages well-being as part of public policy debates, to improve quality of life for people around the world.
Hygge, which is both a noun and adjective in Danish, was recognized as a lifestyle trend in England in 2016, with its inclusion in the Collins Dictionary's Words of the Year for 2016 — ranking second to "Brexit." That year, Pinterest also predicted it would be one of the hottest home decor trends of 2017.
How to hygge
• Cozy spaces: Natural materials, neutral tones, pillows and blankets, candles and fairy lights, fireplaces, love seats, window nooks, soft music
• Comfort foods: Hearty soups, stews, crusty breads, roasts, porridge, hot cocoa, craft beers, mulled wine
• Pastimes: Reading, knitting and other crafts, card and board games, cooking and baking, conversation
• Togetherness: Hosting friends and family, gathering in restaurants, bonding on trips and other adventures
• Mindfulness: Enjoying simple pleasures, being present in the moment, practicing gratitude, decluttering or downsizing
Emily Bell, who lives in Pittsburgh's North Side, says she heard about hygge from a college friend who is Swedish. She now uses it to cope with cold weather.
"I like that hygge has helped me reframe the way I think about winter," says Bell, who works in local politics. "I've never been a winter person, but using the hygge approach to embracing the cold season has helped me enjoy the winter more.
"I have tried to make my home as cozy as possible during winter — lots of really great blankets and really good-smelling candles. I also try to eat lots of healthy warm food; I'm really into veggie soups this year. I also have made a point to buy a pair of warm waterproof boots, lots of sweaters and a super-warm parka.
"This practice has helped me to accept that I can't change the cold, so I might as well make the best out of it," Bell adds. "Hygge seems like a pretty zen-like philosophy — make the most out of the present."
"What interested me at first was that Denmark always tops the list of happy countries," says Janet James of Greensburg, who had a Danish grandmother. "What are they doing that makes them happier than other people?"
Reading Meik Wiking's "The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well" kick-started her search. She found similar inspiration in Margareta Magnusson's "The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning," with its emphasis on paring down possessions.
Though she says she hasn't completely hygge-fied her life, James does a few things that encourage "simplicity and comfort, making home a place you want to be."
Battery-powered candles brighten up the winter, since "I worry about burning the house down with real ones."
Instead of tossing their outdoor annuals, she and her husband Gene James, a founder of Greensburg's SummerSounds concert series, stay close to nature by bringing them in for the winter. They've succeeded in keeping geraniums blooming year-round.
"Being mindful of the future while being present in the moment is a way of life we can adopt to make our lives better," she says.
Her customers might not call it hygge, but they're definitely interested in the concept, says Colleen Pritts, owner of The Finishing Touch in Ligonier.
"At this time of year, people are looking to make their homes cozier and more inviting to others, to welcome them in, because we're spending so much more time inside," she says. "You want things that are pretty, you want to look around your home and have a beautiful surrounding."
Her hygge-style merchandise includes soft blankets and throws, pillows and candles with wooden wicks "that crackle like a fireplace when they burn."
There's a similar vibe at Collections by Marty , with stores in Scottdale and Donegal.
"People do often say, if they've had a stressful day, they like to come in for the atmosphere — the soft music and the scents — especially if they've been staying home more because of the weather," says owner Marty Savanick.
Shoppers can hygge with Savanick's offerings of instrumental music CDs, Vera Bradley sleepwear, sheepskin-lined slippers, chocolate, teas and coffees, scent diffusers and signs that read "Relax" and "Just Breathe."
"I have one of the 'Relax' signs in my bedroom," she says. "We all need that reminder in our daily lives."
Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5750, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @shirley_trib.
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