Have you ever heard of the word, “hygge?” If not, it may be because you’ve never lived in Denmark where the concept has been around since the 19th Century. But in 2015, a prominent article written about hygge for the BBC website went viral and exploded across the U.K. and Europe. Now it is coming to the U.S. Why so popular? With a simple definition of “coziness” or “content togetherness,” hygge (often pronounced hoo-gah) just might be the perfect solution for anyone feeling the stress of the coming holiday or recent political events. Even better, hygge offers a possible path for those of us exploring living well and positive aging.
While the simple English translation of coziness is a jumping off place, hygge is much more than that. To grasp the full meaning of the word we must consider the cultural environment of the Danish. The word hygge is so much a part of Danish life that one way to say goodbye to others is to say, “Hyg dig!, or “Have hygge!” It is also one of the reasons that Denmark ranks near the top of the list in the World Happiness Report published in 2015.
How can they be so happy? With up to 17 hours of darkness during the winter, and average temperatures hovering near 32 degrees F, the Danes know how to not just survive, but to live well, contented and happy. In addition to thinking of hygge as feeling and experiencing coziness, it also contains the physical sensation of being hugged. That’s right. Not only do the Danes focus on home entertaining, they also ensure that their home design features the idea of being warmly embraced. Needless to say, candles and fireplaces play a prominent role in nearly every home. Instead of sleek, modern and often cold interiors, Danes decorate with an eye toward the warm and comfy.
Also behind the idea of coziness is complete relaxation and comfort. That’s why hygge happens regardless of whether you are alone or surrounded by friends or family. Creating an environment that is comfortable and secure is paramount. Curling up in front of the fireplace in flannel pajamas and knitted socks, while reading a book in the quiet of your home, qualifies as hygge as much as eating, drinking wine, and laughing around the dinner table with friends or family. And any time you snuggle with a loved one or a beloved pet is pure hygge. The key is how it feels.
Another benefit of hygge is that it is classless. In other words, if you make your home cozy and your guests content and happy, the size or luxury of your house matters not at all. No one cares where you bought your clothes, handbag or who did your hair. In fact, because the culture of Denmark is much more equality based with moderate working hours for all, social benefits like health care and education for all, safety nets for work security and much more, hygge is reflected in national connection and trust. As author and actress Marie Tourell Soderberg says, “In Denmark, our basic needs are met. We don’t need to fight for survival—and so we have time to do things that we find meaningful.”
With such a focus on the feeling of contentment and belonging, it is no surprise that all controversial conversations (like politics) are not considered hygge. Plus, if the goal is to come together with friends and family to connect and get cozy, then chatting on your cell phone or playing games on your ipad definitely doesn’t qualify. Anything that makes you feel safe, secure and content while huddled against the outside world fits together to create hygge.
So, is it translatable? Can we practice hygge in the U.S.? Of course. While we certainly don’t have the same social equality in our country, there are pockets of us who can embrace the concept of hygge in order to weather the current climate—be that the temperature outside or the political atmosphere as well. If we let go of social comparison, stop striving to get more and more stuff, eliminate stress and debt, and instead focus on what is most important to us, we create hygge.
As Meik Wiking, the author of The Little Book of Hygge says, “Togetherness, relaxations, indulgence, presence and comfort. It all boils down to the pursuit of everyday happiness – the art of creating intimacy and cocoa by candlelight.” Wiking goes on to explain, “Danes are aware of the decoupling between wealth and wellbeing. After our basic needs are met, more money doesn’t lead to more happiness and, instead, Danes are good at focusing on what brings them a better quality of life.”
So what can the average person do to create the feeling of hygge in their life?
Here are a few ideas.
- Focus on the lighting in your home. The warmer the better. Think candles, not florescent. Fireplaces are good too.
- Both the act of creating as well as eating baked goods can create contentment.
- Entertain more. Remember, hygge means connecting deeply with friends and family and has nothing to do with trying to impress. Make it simple.
- Stop working so hard or so many hours. Stop trying to compete, impress or compare.
- Keep things simple. Even if you want to make your home more inviting and hygge, if you stress yourself out or overdo it you have missed the point. Remember, hygge is about savoring the feeling of contentment not trying to prove to anyone that you have it.
I think each and every one of us has heard the news that more money doesn’t make us happier. For the same reason, I think we all know that buying more stuff, a bigger house, a closet of new clothing or more costly jewelry will not make us feel more safe or content. What we all crave, at any age, is that sense of wellbeing that usually comes when we feel safe and content in our home when surrounded by those we love. Staying focused on what is important to us, and embracing feelings of hope and contentment, are both SMART and hygge (hoo-gah!) at the same time.
Photo credit: Flickr