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Ever since I moved to the east coast from California, “hygge” has been the thin string tying my sanity together during the dark winter months. Hygge (pronounced hue-gah) is a delightfully untranslatable Danish and Norwegian concept referring to an atmosphere of coziness, happiness and conviviality. It’s been defined as “coziness of the soul,” “the art of creating intimacy” and even “cocoa by candlelight.” Hygge can be a noun, verb or adjective (the adjective for it is “hyggelig”). Although it comes in many forms, hygge at its core is about finding indulgence, relaxation, togetherness and gratitude in life’s everyday moments.

Ever since hygge entered the American consciousness in about 2015, it’s been used to market anything cozy or winter-related — from blankets to candles to bath salts to furniture — which somewhat misses the point. Hygge can be experienced for free, in any season. Meik Wiking, author of “The Little Book of Hygge,” said people can and should achieve hygge on a shoestring (college!) budget. While hygge definitely involves creating a cozy atmosphere, it’s built on comfort, not luxury.

So, how can you experience hygge right now, even if you’re thousands of miles away from Denmark? Whether you’re living in a Yale suite, in your childhood bedroom or on a tropical island, here are some simple ways to feel a little hygge during this sad pandemic holiday season: 

1. Soften your lighting: Bright fluorescent overhead dorm lighting be gone! Switch to lamps with warm low-wattage bulbs, and if you’re feeling festive, pick up some string lights, like this 40-foot copper-colored set for $10. Pro tip: if you have an easily accessible outlet, plug-in string lights are generally less hassle than the battery-powered ones. They are less finicky and don’t require battery changes.

2. Candles, candles and when you thought there couldn’t possibly be more… candles: They can be unscented, scented, large or small, but one of the quickest ways to hygge is lighting a couple candles. If you want to support a local New Haven business and buy a beautiful candle at the same time, look no further than dwell New Haven at 1022 Chapel St. Their $10 Winter White or $14 Vanilla + Lavender candles will get you in the hygge spirit. Another great choice is Barr-Co’s sustainably made $11 Original Scent candle that smells like milk (but in a good way), oatmeal, vanilla and vetiver. To achieve maximum hygge atmosphere without overwhelming your space with cloying scents, pair one scented candle with a handful of unscented tea lights spread around the room.

3. Hop into something comfy: Maybe it’s your favorite pair of sweatpants or the socks your grandmother knitted you — whatever makes you feel comfortable and loved, wear it! Don’t forget to break out your “hyggebuskers,” the Danish word for that pair of pants you secretly love but would never wear in public.

4. Take joy in surprising sensory experiences: This might be as simple as noticing how warm your clothes feel, and how good they smell, when you take them out of the dryer, or it can be more involved. In my California hometown, some people tie eucalyptus leaves around their showerhead so they have a little surprise scent waiting for them every time they shower. We can’t all be as put-together as those people, but if it floats your boat, go for it! Hygge!!

5. Mindfully indulge in your comfort foods, guilt-free: Hygge is a celebration of every sensory experience, including taste. Comfort foods like cake, stew, pasta, mulled wine, hot chocolate, tea and porridge are very much encouraged. Since hygge is all about enjoying the moment, it’s important to savor everything about the dish, including preparing it. Eating hygge comfort food should be a multisensory experience, not just chewing and swallowing. 

6. Finally call that relative or friend you’re always saying you’ll call but never do: Nothing is cozier than feeling loved and heard, which is why hygge is built around togetherness. Feeling emotionally close to someone is a tall order during a pandemic, but that makes it all the more important. So call your grandparents, your childhood friend or whoever you’re missing, and create that hyggelig closeness, even if you’re thousands of miles apart.

7. Now that you’ve called your loved ones, put away your phone: In order to experience hygge, we need to be stress-free and fully in the moment. Light some candles, play a board game with your family or read a book and leave your electronics in the other room. Hygge keeps it old school.

8. Do something nice for someone: As much as hygge encourages self-love, it’s also about loving others and facilitating community. There’s even a word for a person who spreads the joy and comfort of hygge to others: a “hyggespreder.” Open your eyes to the needs of those around you and act with warmth and understanding. This might mean sending a care package to a friend, dropping a meal at a sick neighbor’s doorstep or organizing for a cause you’re passionate about. After all, as much as hygge might help, the only way we will get through the isolation of this pandemic is by being kind to one another.

Nancy Walecki | nancy.walecki@yale.edu