Hygge (hue-guh) is the uniquely Danish concept of getting serious about “coziness”. For a place with really dark winters and 170 days of rain per year, it makes sense that its people have found ways to combat seasonal depression.
Danes are repeatedly voted the happiest people in the world. Meik Wiking, who works for The Happiness Research Institute, partially attributes this to Denmark’s welfare state (strong social programs alleviate stress and anxiety over basic necessities) but also to hygge, the feeling of coziness, togetherness, warmth, and simplicity that Danes create wherever they go.
The Little Book of Hygge
The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well is very hyggelig.
Other than being about hygge, reading this book is itself an act of self-care. The type is large and modern, with lots of white space. There are easy-to-interpret infographics and graphs that illustrate various concepts. The text is interspersed with recipes, lists, and photographs.
If you wanted to, you could read this whole book in one sitting. But you can also savor it, take the time to enjoy each page. It would be a great book to cuddle with in a nook, or to thumb through in front of a fireplace.
Parts of the book are a bit like an IKEA catalog. I mean that lovingly: when Wiking describes Danish interior design or fashion choices and includes stylized photographs of homes and closets seem aspirational. However…
The experience of reading this book as a non-Dane is slightly voyeuristic, such as when Wiking talks about overindulgence in a way that’s meant to poke gentle fun at the Danes, but instead may come across to us non-Danes as consumerist propaganda:
Visit a student on a shoestring budget and you may still encounter a €1,000 Verner Panton lamp in the corner of her thirty-two-square-metre flat.
Either the author doesn’t understand what “shoestring” means or Danes have a serious budgeting problem if they commit €1,000 to light fixtures just to get a bit more hyggelig.
I get it: Danes love high-quality modern design, unique vintage pieces, and having a billion candles everywhere. Great. But some readers will get sticker shock, especially since Wiking repeatedly emphasizes that money can’t buy happiness (“…one of the most consistent patterns in happiness research is how little difference money makes”) — yet half of the “essential” components of hygge rely on spending tons of money!
(Wiking fails to mention that most Danes are paid very well, even after their notoriously high taxes, which may contribute to the lack of class consciousness.)
Wiking does give cost-conscious options for getting-hygge-with-it, but occasionally the vibe misses the mark and focuses on Denmark’s materialism.
For example, here’s one story about a vase that caused quite a stir:
The Kähler vase was an anniversary piece that was sold in a limited edition […] More than 16,000 Danes tried to buy it online that day — most in vain, as the vase quickly sold out. The website crashed and people queued in long lines outside the stores that were stocking the vase; in many respects, the shoppers looked like teenage girls fighting over tickets for a One Direction concert […]
Danes as very vain and fickle, desperate to purchase a basic-looking vase in order to have the most hyggelig home and be the envy of their friends.
Despite the inner conflict I had with a few of the more consumerist moments, reading The Little Book of Hygge was very hyggelig for me.
It offers some great advice about how to make the most out of living in Denmark: how to combat the dark day blues, the kinds of foods (with recipes) that make Danish winters bearable, cheap and free outings for friends to hygge together, how to make Danish friends, what Danes wear, and some other nuggets of Danish wisdom.
It is also really pretty, as a decorative object — which apparently suits Danish life well.
In summation, The Little Book of Hygge makes a great coffee table book to decorate your cozy-minimalist Danish home. You can pick this book up from anywhere and read a page or two, or read the whole thing cover to cover and feel a little bit cozier.
If we ignore the overhype (seriously, why are there so many photos of this book on Unsplash?), what remains is an informative, well-researched, and witty little book, full of self-deprecating humor (at least, I hope it’s self-deprecating!) and decent suggestions on how to live life to the coziest.
But what is “Hygge”? Well… It’s many things, but I’ll try to explain it. “Hygge” is pronounced “hue-guh” and describes everything cozy, good, relaxing, warm, and enjoyable. Things that make you feel good and warm inside. In essence, “Hygge” means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with people you love and/or care about – or by yourself.
“Hygge” to me is Big fuzzy sweaters. A soft bed. Cuddling with my pets or boyfriend. Reading good books. A lot of candles lit in the evenings – or every hour of the day actually. (I LOVE candles) Movie nights and series marathons. Shopping. Long and warm Summer nights on the balcony listening to the leafhoppers. Barbeques. Watching the snowfall. Long walks in the golden Autumn nature. Visiting big and small flea markets. Fluffy and warm blankets. A crackling fireplace. Picnics with friends. Family dinners. Hugs. Enjoying a big cup of hot chocolate or tea. Pajamas. Comfort food and snacks. Wrapping myself in warm and soft clothes, big scarves, and fluffy socks. Lots of pillows. Fairy lights. “Nesting”. Playing games. Decorating for the seasons. Lightning storms. Bonfires. Fun days with friends. Good scented things. And so on…
All the different hygge scenarios usually have a few things in common: a safe environment, people you like, and tasty food or drinks.
Hygge is a way of life for Danes. It’s well-being. A feeling that requires a certain slowness, and the ability to enjoy the present.
Hygge is simple.
Where does Hygge come from?
Hygge is a Danish concept, but the original word is Norwegian and means well-being or happiness. For almost 500 years, Denmark and Norway were one kingdom, until Denmark lost Norway in 1814. Hygge first appeared in Danish writing in the early 1800s and they have embraced it ever since.
Hygge blog dictionary
In Denmark, Hygge is used elastically as a noun, verb, and adjective. You can have a hygge corner with hygge lighting and enjoy some hygge chat with your friend. We also describe things as hyggeligt (hygge-like).
For instance: What a hyggeligt house you have! Hyggeligt at møde dig (Nice to meet you). When you let your children play with their friends, you say: Hyg jer! (Make yourself cozy!).
Synonyms of hygge
- Being content
- Safe and relaxed atmosphere
- Friendship or family love
- Relaxation, satisfaction, relaxation, de-stressing
- Warmth (in winter-time)
- Simplicity, unpretentiousness, minimalism
- Candles, an open fireplace, soft clothes, tea, sweet things
What’s the opposite of hygge
- Controversy and alterations
- Publicity, being busy
Hygge as a noun
Fredagshygge is something we do on Fridays (fredag) after a long week. What better way to celebrate than with Friday hygge:
“Fredagshygge is snuggling up on the couch with popcorn, and a warm blanket, and watching a movie.”
Hygge you have with your family. Family Hygge is about spending time with your family (in Danish: familie). Playing games, cooking together, watching TV, or going to the park.
“We had familiehygge this weekend. We baked cookies and saw the latest John Wick movie.”
Hygge between girls. This could be anything from a girl’s trip to a spa date or just a cup of coffee with your friend.
“I’ve invited the girls over for some venindehygge.”
The ultimate form of hygge. It’s something you’d say when you’re having an extra hyggelig time. It literally means ‘raw hygge’.
Cozy chitchat or conversations that are pleasant and don’t touch on controversial or upsetting issues. Politics and other heavy topics are no-go.
“I had a nice hyggesnak with my mom the other day.”
A hyggespreder is a person who spreads hygge. It’s that colleague who decorates for Christmas or the person who always makes sure everyone around her is comfortable and feels welcome.
“She’s such a hyggespreder.”
Christmas is the high season of hygge. It’s a time when families gather to make decorations like julehjerter (Christmas Hearts) and Julestjerner (Christmas Stars) and bake Christmas cookies. Read more about Christmas Hygge.
“Are we having julehygge this weekend, Dad?”
A moment of hygge.
“We enjoyed a hyggestund at the lake”
Hyggebukser is that pair of pants you’d never be caught wearing in public, but practically live in when you’re at home on the weekends.
An evening of hygge, similar to a hyggestund, but often longer.
“We’re having a hyggeaften tonight with homemade lentil soup.”
An atmosphere, mood, and feeling of relaxation.
“She’s good at creating hyggestemning.”
Essentially a nook where you can get cozy. Imagine a corner of your living room where you can wrap yourself up in a blanket and read a good book.
The same as a hyggekrog. A hyggehjørne is always in a corner, though.
“I’ve created a hyggehjørne in the corner of the bedroom.”
A special kind of lightening that’s really cozy.
When something is scary. Like watching a horror movie, walking in a dark alley or if you’re home alone and suddenly hear a sound outside.
Hygge as a verb
A common way of saying goodbye, for example, “have a hyggelig time”
This means having a nice, cozy experience with someone.
Make it hyggeligt for someone. For instance by making sure people around you feel good and comfortable.
What are the benefits of hygge
There have been a variety of benefits tied to the practice of hygge.
Happiness researchers continually find Denmark to have some of the happiest people on Earth1, which Danes attribute to the practice of hygge.
Feeling increased happiness could certainly be a perk of practicing Hygge, but there may be other emotional, physical and relationship benefits as well.
Hygge decor is intended to promote a sense of calm and peace in the living space. Since we make sense of, our experiences and environment through the use of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell, it may come as no surprise that creating a cozy living space would help us feel less anxious and promote a sense of emotional well-being and safety. These feelings of comfort and safety can better allow us, and those sharing the space with us, to let down our guards and be more present and open to connecting with one another.
Examples of possible emotional benefits may include:
Less depression and anxiety
Increased feelings of self-worth
Greater sense of mindfulness
Increased practice of gratitude
When we feel safe and calm, our body responds accordingly. It is in moments of perceived danger or threat that our bodies naturally go into a response of fight, flight, or freeze. A hygge-style environment promotes an atmosphere of safety and comfort, where our minds and bodies can feel more relaxed. In a space like this, there is much less need for us to scan our environment for threats.
Examples of possible physical benefits may include:
- Improved sleep
- Weight regulation
- Fewer cortisol (stress hormone) spikes
- Improved practice of self-care
- Reduced need for unhealthy coping behaviors like alcohol or drugs
When we feel comfortable and emotionally safe, we are more likely to reach out to build and nurture connections with others. In a hygge-focused lifestyle, there is an emphasis on connecting with family, friends, and loved ones. Spending time with those who are most important to us creates a sense of belonging and connection that research continues to show impacts our health and well-being. We feel more confident when connected with others, we feel safe to take risks and we are more open to practicing vulnerability with others, all things that can be facilitated within a hygge-style living space.
Examples of possible social benefits may include:
- Focus on togetherness
- Feelings of comfort and safety
- Increased trust
- Increased intimacy
- New social connections
- Improved existing relationships
- Less reliance on social media
Getting started with hygge
So, now that we know what hygge is and isn’t, let’s get into some easy examples of how to hygge:
Hygge is very much about being present and enjoying the little things. So, try to leave your personal problems behind and be positive. There are plenty of other times to worry about our lives. Happiness comes from setting those times aside and being in the now with the ones we love.
Lights are an important part of creating a hyggelig atmosphere. But not just candles. We have lots of small lamps around our living room. And as a sustainable alternative to candles, we have small LED candles.
What could be cozier than curling up on the couch for a warm night in?
Whether a chunky knit or blanket, having something soft to wrap around yourself is a must. As are oversized sweaters and thick socks, which also make things super hygge. For instance, Danes have a word for sweatpants – hyggebukser, which is pair of pants you’d never be caught dead wearing in public, but practically live in when you’re at home.
Films and books
A good movie or book can increase the hygge factor, too. Sit on the couch, put down your phone, turn off social media, etc.
Family and friends
You can enjoy a hyggestund (hygge time) on your own, but it’s even better when you share it with your loved ones. Meet with the people you feel most comfortable around.
Homemade cake, comfort food, and hot drinks
Hygge is about being kind to yourself. Treating yourself. And the best kind is homemade comfort food, like a hearty stew or Danish meatballs. Cake, sweets, and pastry are also essential to a hyggelig time.
Fruits, too. But not vegetables. They’re not very hyggelige – unless you serve them with a dip or some haydari. That could work.
It’s about comfort and not about spending tons of money on an expensive meal. So, pour yourself a warm drink, dig up your grandma’s chicken pot pie recipe, or spend a weekend afternoon baking your favorite chocolate cake.