What is the happiest country in the world? Since 2012, the United Nations has published an annual World Happiness Report. The report measures a number of variables, but countries that rank the highest tend to have high values on the following: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity.

What I find fascinating about the polling is that what contributed to people’s happiness changed depending on where they lived. For example, in 2015 The Economist highlighted European countries in their article on the World Happiness Report. They noted that in the Mediterranean, people were happier in towns, but near the Arctic Circle people found more joy with rural life. In southern Europe, families with children were happiest, but the British and Irish actually become sadder when they had children. Everyone is happiest when young and not so much in middle age, but the Brits and Scandinavians tended to cheer up in old age while the southern Europeans did not.

Denmark has ranked in the top three – along with other Scandinavian countries – since the report’s inception in 2012. In the 2016 report, “retired Danish women” were the cheeriest of all. And it wasn’t just about economic conditions. The poorest 20 percentage of Danes were happier than the richest Greeks. (No comment from someone whose great-grandfather only spoke Greek.)

So what’s up with the retired Danish women? I’m betting that hygge has a lot to do with it.

The Oxford Dictionary defines hygge (pronounced “hue-guh”) as “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture).” Alex Beauchamp, a Danish blogger, claims that “Danes created hygge because they were trying to survive boredom, cold, dark and sameness…. [T]he undefinable feeling of Hygge was a way for them to find moments to celebrate or acknowledge and to break up the day, months or years. With so many cold, dark, days, the simple act of a candle glowing with a cup of coffee in the morning or a home cooked evening meal with friends can make a huge difference to one’s spirit.”

For many, it’s the small things that help create a hyggelig environment:

  • A fire in the fireplace
  • Soft and plush blankets piled high, within easy reach of favorite sitting spots
  • A hot cup of tea or cocoa (and maybe a few sweets)
  • Soft lighting including candles, tealights, and/or fairy lights
  • Thick, warm socks or slippers

But more important is the feeling that hygge evokes, or rather that hygge IS a feeling. Candles and slippers may help you create an image of hygge, but hygge is not something that can be achieved by having the right decorator or furnishings. At its simplest, hygge is about being present. Hygge requires the ability to be present, acknowledge the present and enjoy the present. In that respect, hygge shares a lot with other world traditions of mindfulness and gratitude (except maybe that it’s connected more closely to winter).

So if you’re looking to up your happiness quotient – especially during the dark days of winter, light a few candles, put on your fuzzy slippers, invite some friends over for tea or homemade soup, and take time to actually stop and enjoy your surroundings. Pamper yourself. Create small indulgences. Connect with yourself and others. Instead of focusing on the weather or waiting for spring, truly appreciate the coziness and comforts of home – if only for a few moments.