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Here’s how to embrace the simple philosophy that keeps Danes cozy and content all winter long.

January 25, 2017

There isn't an exact translation for the Danish word hygge (pronounced HOO-GA), but you've definitely felt it before—maybe while playing a board game with friends on a snowy night, or curled up in front of a fireplace with a cup of tea and a really good book. Hygge has been described as "coziness of the soul," and for the Danes—who are considered the happiest people on the planet (despite their long, hard winters)—it's a way of life, says Meik Wiking, chief executive officer of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen.

In his Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living ($20; amazon.com), Wiking outlines practical ways to embrace the buzzy philosophy ("hygge" made the shortlist for Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year in 2016) and its key ingredients: togetherness, presence, indulgence, relaxation, and comfort. "[Hygge] is basically like a hug, just without the physical touch," he says. What it really comes down to is making the most of little, daily pleasures, especially when it's dark and freezing outside. Below are six of Wiking's tips for adding more hygge to your everyday life.

Create a cozy atmosphere

“Danes are obsessed with interior design because our homes are our hygge headquarters," says Wiking. The one thing every hygge home needs? A "hyggekrog," or a cozy nook where you might enjoy your coffee and newspaper. You can also bring hygge to your space through candlelight, nature, and rich textures. “Danes feel the need to bring the entire forest inside—leaves, nuts, twigs, animal skins,” says Wiking. “Letting your fingers run across a wooden table or a warm ceramic cup is a distinctly different feeling from being in contact with something made from steel, glass or plastic.” In other words, log cabin chic has hygge written all over it.

Stock a self-care emergency kit

Instead of coming home after a particularly rough day and veging out in front of Netflix, try a self-care ritual that increases the R&R you get from your downtime. Wiking recommends creating a kit that contains comfort things like candles, quality chocolate, herbal tea, a soft blanket, warm wool socks, a page-turner, or a notebook and pen, or a photo album. All of these things allow you to wind down in a more mindful way.

Learn a craft

Knitting is super hygge, since its slow, steady rhythm is calming for many people, says Wiking. It helps you focus in a laid-back way. But if you can’t see yourself with knitting needles, there are plenty of other hygge pastimes. “Crafts in general are hygge, especially if you do them with a friend,” says Wiking. “It's a chance to slow down and make something handmade.” Try painting, making a collage, or quilting during a night in.

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Make a hygge treat

Hygge foods are all about pleasure. Think cookies, cake, and pastries. ("Danes love freshly baked goods," says Wiking. "They don't have to look professional. In fact, the more rustic the better.") Slow, rich food—like stews and chili—are also hygge. Even more hygge than eating these foods is making them with friends and family. Wiking suggests starting a cooking club instead of throwing traditional dinner parties. “When everyone gathers and cooks together instead of one person hosting, it maximizes the hygge. It's a relaxed and informal evening,” says Wiking.

Start a new tradition with people you love

Togetherness is a big part of the hygge concept. To facilitate more time with friends and family, create a new tradition that involves a hygge activity (that is, one that encourages everyone to connect and feel comfortable). That could mean organizing a game night, renting a cabin, going apple-picking, or taking a ski trip. “Any meaningful activity that unites the group will knit everyone more tightly together over the years,” says Wiking. “Hygge is making the most of the moment, but it’s also a way of planning for and preserving happiness. Danes plan for hygge times and reminisce about them afterwards.”

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Practice gratitude

Hygge and gratitude go hand in hand. The philosophy entails feeling thankful for the little things, like a bike ride on a beautiful day, or a cup of hot chocolate, or re-watching your favorite movie. “Research shows that people who feel grateful are not only happier but also more helpful and forgiving and less materialistic,” says Wiking. “It’s all about savoring simple pleasures.”