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'Hygge' is the best-kept Danish secret to beating your winter blues

Fiona Longmuir is a professional storyteller, reluctant adult and aspiring funny girl. When not getting naked in tube stations and binge-watching inappropriate TV shows, she can be found scribbling at the Escapologist's Daughter.

What is ‘hygge’ and is it the secret to wintertime happiness?

In today's stressful times, it's easy to get down and depressed. Sometimes we rely on therapy, prescription medication, or a couple bottles of wine to get through our blues — but the people of Denmark might have a much easier way to beat what bogs us down. Hygge could be the simple solution to all our problems.

According to translator ToveMaren Stakkestad, hygge was never meant to be translated — it was meant to be felt — so providing a working definition can be tricky. But hyggehouse.com says hygge (pronounced hue-gah) is a Danish word the people use to encapsulate a special feeling.

"(It's) a feeling or mood that comes taking genuine pleasure in making ordinary, every day moments more meaningful, beautiful or special," the website reads. "Whether it’s making coffee a verb by creating a ritual of making it then lingering over a cup to a cosy evening in with friends to the simple act of lighting a candle with every meal. Hygge is being aware of a good moment whether it’s simple or special."

Basically, hygge is living in the moment and choosing to marvel in the simple pleasures that make you feel warm and cozy. And when advice on how to stay happy comes from Denmark — where a winter day can have up to 17 hours of darkness and the average temperature is a 0 degrees, yet people manage to stay amazingly chipper — we're going to take it.

More: The health benefits you miss when you don't spend time alone

Here are four easy steps to getting a little hygge in your life this season.

1. Candles, candles, candles!

What is ‘hygge’ and is it the secret to wintertime happiness?
Image: Benoit/Flickr

It's no secret that candles help lots of people to unwind and good lighting is essential to create a totally hyggeligt atmosphere. In fact, it's so important that Danes are the biggest consumers of candles in the European Union! Get yourself some delicious candles, light all of them at the same time, drape every available surface in fairy lights and bask in their soothing glow.

2. Your favourite people

What is ‘hygge’ and is it the secret to wintertime happiness?
Image: Elenathewise/Getty Images

Is there anything more comforting to the soul than spending time in great company? Making time to see your friends and family has a huge effect on mental health and can help those long evenings fly in. Put down your phone, dim the lights and let the conversation flow. The winter nights aren't so cold if you've got someone delicious to snuggle down with.

More: 5 fun alternatives to yoga and meditation for stress relief

3. Nesting materials

What is ‘hygge’ and is it the secret to wintertime happiness?
Image: Jessie Jacobson/Flickr

We're talking serious snuggling here, people, so we need the right supplies. We need cushions. We need blankets. We need huge, mortifying, fluffy dressing gowns. And we need them now.

4. Great food

What is ‘hygge’ and is it the secret to wintertime happiness?
Image: Yuki Nishinaka/EyeEm/Getty Images

It's called comfort food for a reason! For a truly hyggeligt evening, you want simple, hearty, warming food. The kind of food that feels like a hug on a plate. A big bowl of steaming stew would work. So would a slice of apple pie. So, for that matter, would a bottle of wine. Forget about the calories and eat something that makes you feel really, really happy.

5. A little indulgence

What is ‘hygge’ and is it the secret to wintertime happiness?
Image: Kristian Septimius Krogh/Getty Images

We spend so much time beating ourselves up for our choices and hygge provides a little oasis from that. Take a break from worrying about what you should be doing and just focus on feeling great. Binge watch an entire boxset of old movies. Throw on a face mask and stick your feet in a basin of hot water. Savour every mouthful of a fabulous dessert. Have sex. Anything that helps you really connect with yourself or with the people you love is definitely hygge.

Maybe the reason that hygge is so difficult to define is that it means something different to each of us. For some, it might be curling up with the cat and a cup of coffee; for others, it might be a raucous group of friends jostling round a dining table. Whatever form it takes, it means making time to really take care of yourself. And taking care of ourselves is something that we just don't do enough. So crank the heating up and make yourself an enormous hot chocolate with all the trimmings. If it's good enough for the happiest country on earth, it's good enough for us!

More: Beefy tomato macaroni soup is the belly-warming recipe you want this fall

Originally published November 2015. Updated December 2016.

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