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The comfort of a big, warm hygge

7 December 2017

Hygge, pronounced hoo-ga, is a word that is likely to be fairly new to your lexicon if not completely unheard of, but is something you've probably experienced many times without even knowing it. It's great when a nation finally comes up with a word to describe a feeling so complex that we've previously only been able to try explaining it using long, convoluted sentences (much like this one) accompanied by over the top gesticulations. (Let's all take a moment here to thank the French for giving us the word sonder. Translation: "the realization that each random passer-by is living a life as vivid and complex as your own-populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness-an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you'll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk."

And that's exactly what we get with hygge, the Danish concept of cosiness, a word that manages to sum up the satisfaction we get from being inside when the weather is terrible, an evening spent beside a roaring fire with a good book or even the sensation of a really fluffy pair of slippers. It's such a big deal in Scandinavia (perhaps as a way of coping with those relentless polar nights) that it's even been described as "a defining feature of our cultural identity and an integral part of the national DNA", and is an enjoyment often credited with helping them achieve high rankings year after year in poles of the world's happiest countries. Officially it's both a verb and a noun, but really, it's a way of life.

So this festive season, embrace your inner Dane with our top list of how to remove stress and add a little more hygge into your day.

1 - Comfort food

Food is an emotional crutch for many of us, an edible form of therapy when things get a bit much. While this can get to unhealthy extremes for some people, there's nothing wrong with indulging every so often. The way the Danish do this is by eating pastries in particular tebirkes, a puff-pastry, scone hybrid complete with a sweet filling and coating of poppy seeds. For extra hygge points, serve alongside a steaming mug of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream.

2 - Say no

A lot of us feel guilty refusing invitations to go out for drinks or visit a friend's house, especially on the run up to Christmas. This is fine if you're a social butterfly who thrives in company but for those who may be more introverted, time alone can be invaluable. So don't beat yourself up about not attending the odd after work dinner or family outing, but revel in the fact that you're taking some time to focus on your own needs. Stay home and relax in your favourite pair of pyjamas, or enjoy an early night under the duvet with your most well-thumbed paperback. And there's no need to lie about what you're up to - everyone wants to avoid communal engagements occasionally, so it's high time we break the taboo!

3 - Turn out all the lights

Hygge is all about soft focus and idealistic sepia tones, so to that end say goodbye to your 60 watt lightbulbs and invest in some fairy lights, candles (if they're scented than that's all to the better), and good old-fashioned firelight. We often think we're happiest surrounded by all the latest mod cons, but technology is notoriously distracting, and we have an amazing ability as humans to pass endless hours scrolling through websites we're not really that interested in whilst distractedly watching something on T.V. at the same time. So go back to basics and buy yourself a couple of quiet hours of being hypnotised by flickering embers. (If you're outside, preferably in some woods while roasting marshmallows on a stick and listening to someone on an acoustic guitar - or even better playing one yourself - then this just adds to the hygge ambience.)

4 - Layers

The current weather forecast just makes this entry even more perfect because in the world of hygge, there's no such thing as too many layers. Jumpers, scarfs, hats, coats, gloves, leg warmers -you literally cannot go over the top (in fact, anything that does go actually over your top is a bonus). Envelop yourself in a material cuddle with your most winter appropriate clothes, with no need to match colours or style, and head out into the world feeling protected from the hordes of panicked Christmas shoppers, safe in the knowledge that you're following the sage advice, "Der findes intet der hedder dårligt vejr, kun dårligt påklædning!" (There's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing!).

5 - Actually go to Denmark!

It may seem a bit obvious, but who better to learn from than the masters themselves? Visit Copenhagen, affectionately known as 'bike city' and immerse yourself in a world of award-winning design, which rubs along just fine next to its more historic neighbours, high-class gastronomy and coastal landscapes. Or perhaps go more rural and become one with nature, hiking through wild fields or across windswept beaches. Denmark is a safe haven for all those making pilgrimage to the country that cultured cosy.