As I set the camera on timer on a carefully balanced tripod in the corner of the kitchen during supper, no one raised an eyebrow; the family are all quite used to me snapping away by now, they automatically assume “it’s for the blog” and ignore me! But Roddy did ask one thing, “What’s this post about?”
“Hygge” I answered.
“What?” exclaimed everyone. Not one person around the table had a clue what I was talking about so I explained a little.
“So are we moving to Denmark now?” was Roddy’s comment afterwards, and from there the conversation moved on to short days, gathering darkness by 3pm, and the fact that Denmark is actually on the same latitude as the north of Britain. This all led to talk of the Scottish Islands and my ancestors, and so on and so forth. ‘Hygge’ was long forgotten, the camera had blinked and taken it’s automatic photo, but no one had even noticed. The candles continued to flicker and faces remained animated with the fast paced chatter around our kitchen table.
I don’t really follow lifestyle trends but ironically I find that our way of living here in France and the lifestyle we moved here for seems to fall into a neat category, which indeed has a name, ‘Hygge.’ It seems we have been doing it all along – at least if one reads the many magazine articles written about this very subject.
Now not all of you will know what ‘hygge’ (pronounced ‘hooga’) is. I have no idea how popular it is around the world, but let me tell you it is big news in the UK. There isn’t an exact translation for the word, in general terms it means ‘cosiness’ or ‘contentment’, but it’s so much more than that; it encompasses so many things and it isn’t anything new of course to Scandinavians – it’s been a part of the culture in Denmark for the last two centuries.
‘Hygge’ is about slowing down a little and learning to appreciate the simple, small pleasures that make life great.
One aspect is the spending of quality time with friends and family, something that makes us happy. There is nothing more enjoyable than preparing food whilst chatting with friends, and the whole point is that it doesn’t have to be perfect; it can be sharing a glass of wine, or gladly accepting any offers of help; whether it’s to stir sauces, chop vegetables or laying a table. No matter what you are doing and whether eating in or out, it’s about conviviality, friendship, and laughter.
Okay, before you all sigh and think this is another food post, it really isn’t! I only mention food as an affirmation that we all need to eat, but far more that we should enjoy what we eat; we should relish the aromas, the taste, the simple act of sitting down together, a meal should always please our senses as well as satiating our hunger.
In the winter think of thick hearty soups
and warming bowls of porridge to get the day off to a good start.
In the summer try and eat outside and for those of you in warmer climes than us right now I found myself just a little envious as I browsed through photos taken just a few months ago!
However, here we are fast approaching winter and so log fires are the order of the day.
Dim the lights and use plenty of candles. I love candles, the flickering flames create an ephemeral glow and create a cosy sensual atmosphere in any room, plus candlelight can be very flattering; wrinkles are erased and misbehaving hair is forgiven!
Natural elements within the home are also key points, be they wooden floors, exposed stone walls or other organic materials, but even more important is the overall feeling of comfort; a room should welcome you and make you want to stay. Just as we wrap ourselves in a snuggly blanket so the room should envelop us in contentment.
You should also give yourself an occasional treat; the Danes eat cake and pastries and who can resist a simple easy-peasy apple tart? Blind bake the pastry, simmer some chopped apples, (preferably a mixture of varieties) and purée them with an immersion blender and when they have cooled a little, spoon over the pastry base. Top with a layer of apple slices (you can add a sprinkling of cinnamon or sugar if you want it sweeter) and bake for twenty minutes or so in a moderate over. Et voilà, simple homemade perfection!
If you don’t happen to have a great French boulangerie just around the corner with the likes of our friends Amélie and Franck baking perfect bread then make it yourself! The smell of a freshly baked loaf wafting through the house is about as homely is it gets and is arguably one of life’s great simple pleasures.
Make steaming mugs of hot chocolate, or drink it out of bowls as the French do
and whilst working in the garden take five minutes off to sit on a bench, a log or an old stone wall and sip at a hot cup of tea, made in advance and kept warm in a flask.
But most of all, get outside; ‘hygge’ is all about balance and living a good, healthy life – so exposure to nature is vital. No matter what the weather, don appropriate clothing, wellies, hats and scarves and take a walk. There’s nothing quite like bracing winds whipping around one’s ears to make one walk faster and there’s nothing like exercise to make one feel good.
Be a kid again and kick around in the puddles or go for a bike ride.
Summer ‘hygge’ conjures up images of playing in meadows, beachcombing or picking blackberries with the children.
I personally think seasons are good for the soul. However, we don’t have to live in sub-zero temperatures with permanently roaring log fires to be content. In winter we might be sitting on a big comfy sofa, logs crackling in the hearth, candles burning and maybe we’ll be appreciating a glass of red wine with best friends and family. Whereas in the summer it might be a trip to the beach, an evening bbq and a plateful of freshly grilled fish served with salad and tomatoes fresh from the garden.
Although this has mostly been about friendship and togetherness, you can still achieve tranquility and serenity alone. There are few things more comforting than cuddling up under a blanket and getting sucked into a good book, reading a magazine or watching a great movie and being transported to another place and time. We are currently totally engrossed in ‘The Crown’ on Netflix; the cast and storyline are excellent and I am so pleased to see a second series has already been commissioned for next year.
Anyway, by now you should have got the gist of this! ‘Hygge’ isn’t about extravagance, indulgence yes, but not extravagance and it’s never about trying to impress people; it’s about creating a warm and inviting atmosphere that friends and family never want to leave. It’s about using all five senses to enjoy even the simplest things, whether it’s the sight of a robin outside the window, hearing a ripple of laughter, tasting roasted marshmallows, smelling those simmering apples, or touching freshly pressed linen as you curl up in bed at the end of a long day.
Prioritise happiness over perfection and if you are enjoying time with a friend, put the phone away! Studies show a clear link between gratitude and well-being. But another important thing to remember when it comes to understanding ‘hygge’ is that it’s all about experiences rather than materialism. Today is Thanksgiving in America; we don’t celebrate it in the UK or in France, but perhaps even those of us who are not American should take the time today to stop and consider all the things we are thankful for.
And for those celebrating today, don’t let cooking the turkey stress you out; enjoy the meal, enjoy your family and friends and have a very Happy Thanksgiving. Wherever you are in the world, be it northern or southern hemisphere, spring or autumn, perhaps we should all encompass the ‘hygge’ way of life.
And I’ll leave you with a funny story. 7am this morning, there is a frantic phone call from Izzi. She cannot find the giblets in the turkey and the packaging clearly says to remove the neck and giblets. What is funny about this you may well wonder. She is British, living in England, desperately trying to remove giblets from inside a raw turkey, which she will then cook, despite the fact that she is vegetarian and won’t be eating it and is celebrating Thanksgiving for her American friends!