Cecilia Fahlström has called Copenhagen home for just around 12 years now—ever since moving to study at the University of Copenhagen at age 18. After graduating, she spent years working on her wildly popular blog (and associated Instagram), Copenhagen Cakes, in addition to freelance food writing. Fast forward to today, and she's a full-time content advisor, working on everything from strategy to community management.
We caught up with her to get a better understand for the Danish obsession with hygge and learn what practical steps we can take to infuse more coziness into our homes.
Journy: If you had to describe the concept of hygge to someone who had never heard of it before, what would you say? How would you define it?
Fahlström: The concept of hygge is so hard to describe, as I believe it to be more a feeling than an actual concept. You "feel" hygge. It's an uninterrupted feeling of warmth and safety. An overwhelming sense of being in the present and not having a care in the world of what's to come. You totally forget all troubles and hardships.
Journy: How does this feeling come to life in someone's home?
Fahlström: You can decorate a room to make it "hyggelig," meaning that the room exudes hygge, so while being there you feel at ease and relaxed. Hyggelig can also be an adjective to an activity, like playing a board game inside with someone you care for while feeling the warmth from a fireplace. Or sipping hot cocoa in you mug while it's raining outside. "Let's do something hyggeligt today" is something I would say if we're in need of a family day with no things on the to-do-list. Going to a museum can be hyggelig, as can listening to quiet music while painting or laying out a puzzle on the floor. The important thing is that it's always extremely pleasant and carefree.
Journy: How does the concept of hygge influence the aesthetic design of your home?
Fahlström: Aesthetic design actually has nothing to do with hygge—unless design and living aesthetically is what makes you happy and makes you feel at ease, that is. For me, for example, I can't sit down and relax if my house is messy or needs vacuuming. I need to know that dust under the sofa is taken care of, and that pile of laundry is folded. THEN I can sit down, relax, and be at ease. But 99% of the time these days, my house is nowhere near that state!
Journy: Is hygge something you actively think about and try to intentionally incorporate into your lifestyle? Or is it so ingrained in Danish culture by now that it has become second nature?
Fahlström: Maybe if I lived in a cabin somewhere in the woods, hygge would be ingrained in my lifestyle. But right now, I live in the city and spend most of my waking hours working or taking care of my family. And then I try and keep up with exercise plans and have a social life, so making time for those hygge moments can be really hard. But I try to make room for a splash of it as often as I can, as I believe it's just as healthy for the soul as yoga or meditation. Of course now, during these challenging times where everything has been turned upside down, just getting through the day without going crazy counts as a success!
READ MORE: 7 "Hygge" Things To Do In Copenhagen
Journy: Are there any common misconceptions about hygge that you'd like to dispel?
Fahlström: Despite the fact that we Danes have a specific term for hygge, which is unique to our language, we don't own the feeling, the adjective, or the term. Hygge is actually not a specific Danish thing. It's just like how you have a word for "please" that we don't have in the Danish language, but that doesn't mean we can't express thanks, politeness, or kindness in our own way.
But for the most part, hygge is so subjective, so there's no definite answer as to how one might explain or feel it.
Journy: How, if at all, does hygge factor into the reported high rates of happiness in Danish culture?
Fahlström: I'm not quite sure that hygge is even related to the high rates of happiness in Denmark. I'd say for sure that our level of happiness has to do with our politics, welfare system, free healthcare, free first-class education for everyone, etc. Hygge may be a byproduct of people living a somewhat carefree life because we don't have to worry about saving for our kids' university education, thus indebting ourselves for life, and we don't have to worry about falling sick and not being able to pay for health care, medicine, or hospitals. These are just undocumented speculations, but my guess is that this makes room for us to live just a slightly more carefree life, leaving room for togetherness and living in the present.
Journy: How can hygge help comfort those who are having trouble (or getting stir-crazy!) staying inside and self-isolating with the COVID-19 pandemic?
Fahlström: Pretending that hygge could bring comfort these days would probably be devaluing or underestimating the seriousness of the current COVID-19 situation—from both a public health and economic standpoint. There's no universal concept that would be helpful for everyone, since people are handling their specific situation in the best way possible for them. But for us, we feel like some days we need to get out and run around in the forest or throw some rocks into the sea. And other days, we stay at home, bake cakes, paint, and eat ice cream on the couch. Every day is different.