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The Little Book of Hygge: How Danes thrive in winter

What is hygge? It's raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens. Brown paper packages tied up with strings. All of Maria's favorite things.

This 2009 file photo shows people enjoying sunny weather in Nyhan, Denmark.
Torben Stroyer/ Polfoto via AP
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What is hygge? It's raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens. Brown paper packages tied up with strings. All of Maria's favorite things, including the pajama'd Von Trapp children getting cozy in her bedroom right on down to the storm raging outside is possibly the best depiction – and literal description – of hygge available in popular American culture despite never being named in the film.

The original concept of hygge (pronounced "HOO-gah") comes from Denmark, and it seems they'd know a thing or two about happiness since the 2016 World Happiness Report rated them the happiest country in the world. But it was British publishing houses who seized on it, repackaging and popularizing it with books like The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living, to make it the lifestyle trend du jour.

Most everyone goes directly to "cozy" as an inadequate explainer, focusing on the aesthetics over the mindset. For my part, I'm understanding it to be a way of making the things we do to get through the long, dark winter (and trying times in general) into something meditative and centering, a nostalgia-tinged ritual of cherishing and savoring everything that you kept after using Konmari to declutter.

Making a pizza from scratch while wearing a handmade sweater and listening to my mom's old Cat Stevens record is hygge.

Cheeseburger soup simmering in the slow cooker while I'm knitting and telling jokes with my friends. Every candle on my coffee table lit and hand knit socks on my feet. A favorite mug full of hot chocolate warming my hands, served with a melty homemade marshmallow. Hygge.

Curling up in a Craigslist mamasan with a pot of my favorite herbal tea from Colorado, a couple slices of homemade pumpkin bread, and a used book. Flanked by two purring cats. The tea is served in adorable kitty-face mugs discovered in a tea shop in Chinatown a few summers ago. So very hyggelig.

In hygge, there is an aversion to expensive nights out, to the shiny, new, and costly. Instead, hygge gets nostalgic with the things you have, the coziness of an old but warm pair of slippers, the simplicity of a night in with friends and family. Hygge derives its warmth and fuzziness from quiet moments unplugged from the world outside. It appreciates anything homemade, the details of a scene, the memories locked in objects that we love. And fire is an essential element – a fireplace, a mantle full of candles – the light and heat creating a defense against a season defined by its cold and darkness.

It's easy to see why hygge caught on in the cold, dark end to 2016. In these times of hostile politics and the deaths of beloved celebrities announced seemingly every hour, hygge offers sanctuary, a peaceful retreat into your own personalized happy place, or a way to circle the wagons for a respite with close friends. In this light, hygge is a method of self-care.

Although it's not without its critics, we see it as a thing for which there is a time and a place, a way to reframe our negative attitudes towards winter as an opportunity for happy introspection, a way to recharge our batteries before heading back out into the fight. That seems to be where this version of hygge belongs.

Hygge for One

Make yourself some tea and cookies. Serve it to yourself on a tray with a candle and a cloth napkin. Cuddle up under a blanket to read a book and enjoy.

Sounds pretty simple, right? That's the whole point. But it's not just the fact that there's a tray, a mug, and a book – it's what these objects mean to you that matters. We'll get to that.

But first, you'll need to ditch the electronics. Shut the TV off. Plug in the phone, put away the tablet, and forget about them. Shutting off all of your access to the outside world is key to making hygge work. Now let's break it all down.

A serving tray
Don't spend a lot on a tray. You may already have one or two laying around the house, used as catch-alls or kept for those breakfasts-in-bed that never actually happen. I found mine at IKEA. Something like this Black Hammered Metal Serve Tray, currently on clearance for $6.98 at Target, would be great as well – its rustic look is on point for the hygge aesthetic. When hunting for a tray, I heartily recommend finding one with handles.

Cloth napkin
Fold the napkin and use it as a sort of liner. Not only does it catch spills and wipe your fingers, it also dresses up the tray just enough to feel a little elegant. I love cloth napkins in general since they're reusable and simply throwing them in the laundry is easy. World Market is my go-to source, with lots of stylish and affordable cloth napkins in stock.

A candle
Most hygge experts will tell you that fire is an essential element, providing a source of light and heat as a buffer against the cold and dark of a Scandinavian winter. A small votive with a tea light candle should fit nicely on your tray. Thrift stores are great options for candle holders of all kinds. I'm pretty sure the green glass votive holder on my tray came from a Salvation Army store for maybe $1. There's no need to spend a lot of money on the candles either – a 16-ct. pack of tealights is $1 at Dollar Tree. Or if your coziest spot is near a fireplace, get a fire going.

Your favorite mug
Depending on my mood, I'll pull down the mug I bought on a cool rainy night at the Eiffel Tower, or the cute little Japanese mugs with the kitty-faces that I found in Chicago's Chinatown. Whatever mug you choose, it should be one you associate with fond memories.

Herbal tea
I'm partial to loose leaf teas from Vail Mountain Coffee & Tea, particularly because they were served at a cafe I frequented when I lived in Colorado. Now that I live in Chicago, this tea reminds me of those nights in the best possible way. If there's a tea (or cocoa, coffee, matcha, whatever!) that you associate with a time and place with cherished memories, make that your beverage.

Small tea pot
I keep a small ceramic teapot on hand for brewing and serving my tea. I've had it for at least a decade, and it's cute as heck. I include it on this list since to me, pouring a cup from my little robin's egg blue tea pot is part of the experience. This 18 oz. Stump teapot, $24 from Stash Tea, is one of the most affordable options we found with a built-in infuser.

A small treat on a dessert or appetizer plate
Drink your tea with some crispy ginger cookies, or a small slice of pumpkin bread, or whatever treat you happen to have on hand. If you don't have dessert plates in your cabinets, check out this colorful set of eight Royal Doulton Tapas Plates at Target for $29.99. You'll get plenty of use out of them when your friends come over for some group hygge.

A book you've been meaning to read
I have two requirements for this book. First, it must be a physical book, not an ebook. Second, it must be a book you want to read for fun – not for your career, not for homework, nothing that feels like a chore. This is time you're carving out for yourself to savor and enjoy. Not sure what to read? Check out the New York Times' list of 100 Notable Books of 2016 for some ideas.

A soft throw blanket
Now that you have tea, cookies and a book, curl up in your favorite chair under a soft blanket. These cozy Martha Stewart Classic Reversible Micromink Faux Sherpa Throws are $26.97 on closeout at Macy's. (Check out this recent post to learn how to avoid Macy's shipping fees.)

Now get cozy. Let all of the memories locked in your mug seep into the tea. Let the mug warm your hands, while reading a story you're excited to know. in the coziest spot in your home. Hang on to that feeling.

Hygge with Friends

When was the last time you spent quality time with loved ones without technology getting in the way -- seriously? Can you remember hosting a potluck without the big game blaring in the background? The last dinner party you attended that was devoid of chirping smartphone notifications? Maybe it's time to get hygge together.

Humans are social creatures by nature, and being hygge as a group means more than just snuggling together to watch a movie. Community hygge means connection, communication and true understanding. How do you host a truly hygge gathering? Tell your friends leave their phones in the car, unplug the TV, the PlayStation and maybe even the WiFi, and stock up on some of these communal hygge essentials.

A slow cooker
What's the best way to help a group feel cozy and connected? Feed them something warm, filling and delicious. Whip up a big batch of hearty chili, a creamy potato soup, or a hot winter cider (whisky optional, but encouraged!) and ask friends to bring homemade sides and desserts to share. This 6-qt. Hamilton Beach Slow Cooker is marked down to $21.99 at Kohl's, with additional discounts available when you apply a Kohl's coupon. Nothing brings us together like sharing a meal or hot drink with the people we love. Don't forget to add candles to the table.

Mood lighting
You want your hygge gathering to feel like something out of a fairy tale, and one way to achieve that vibe is through lighting. If you can't swing a fireplace, hang some pretty string lights, like this $11 strand from Amazon, strategically around your space and turn off all harsh overhead lights to achieve maximum coziness.

Pillows, pillows and more pillows
Spread them all over the floor for your guests to lounge and rest their tired feet on. You might not be able to provide couch seating for all your friends, but this Merax floor pillow/chair hybrid is a perfect alternative. If you're considering making this hygge party an all-nighter, stock up on these KosiKush beanbag loungers for $18 a pop.

All the adorable animals you can find
Hygge welcomes all living beings, human and otherwise. If you want to get really into the spirit, let your friends bring their furry companions to snuggle with. cats, dogs, bunnies, alpacas – whatever! Adding an animal element to your soiree is never a bad idea, unless you're deathly allergic, I guess. Bonus: Boost the cute and cozy factor by dressing your furbabies in cute sweaters.

Good, old-fashioned games
We're not talking Call of Duty. Bust out the old board games, dust off that deck of cards and arrange those floor pillows into a circle. If you still haven't recovered from a childhood full of Monopoly-induced violence and rage, try out some new classics, like Cards Against Humanity (note: this is definitely not one for the kids), or one of the many games our resident gaming expert Jim Markus mentioned in his recent article on cheap new options for family game night.

A record player (and a few calming records)
Sure, your smartphone might be able to stream any song in the history of music at the push of a button, but it can also ring and chime and remind you that it's your ex boyfriend's new wife's birthday. A record player can do one thing: play one record, one song at a time. Put some vintage vinyl on your Crosley Radio Cruiser (currently on sale for $59.99 at Target) to play in the background, and rest easy knowing your listening won't be interrupted by a notification from a Twitter troll.

Adult coloring books, markers and pencils
Let your guests' creative juices flow freely as you relax together. Coloring has been shown to reduce anxiety, calm stress, and help improve focus and concentration. It creates a flow state, and brings us back to the simplicity of youth. As you color, you can chat, listen, or just be in the moment – what's more hygge than creating art in a room full of love?

This story originally appeared on Brad's Deals.

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