Maybe you have heard about the word hygge (pronounced “HU-guh” – with a very soft guh) or maybe not but if you don’t know what it is and you are interested in becoming happier then this really is a word that you should learn about.
Hygge is a Danish word and concept that is often translated into English as meaning snug or cosy. Whilst these words are aspects of hygge, they fall massively short of being able to encapsulate the intricate and wonderfulness that this linguistic concept represents. Having had a few Danish friends in my 20s and having spent a little time in Denmark, I knew a bit about hygge but it was only after reading (or rather listening) to the “Little Book of Hygge” by Meik Wiking (pronounced Viking – what a brilliant name for a Dane) that I really gained a deep sense of what hygge really is – and I have to say that I have totally fallen in love with it!
I wanted to learn more about hygge because I knew that it was probably a way of thinking that contributed to Denmark’s ability to consistently come at the top of the rankings for the World’s happiest countries in various studies. Having recently spent 16 months researching and writing about positive psychology and what enables people to be happy for my book “Choosing Happier”, I hoped that this would be an interesting and informative read. However, I wasn’t expecting it to be such a delightful and heart-warming book – but then I guess that is a reflection of the concept that the book is attempting to share.
So What Is Hygge?
Hygge is both a verb (to hygge, “Lets hygge later”) and an adjective i.e. some thing can be hyggelig (pronounced HU-guh-lee) e.g. “I have some really hyggelig socks”. There are particular environments, things, activities, occasions and situations that are specifically hygge, and it is necessary to understand what they all are to really get a clearer sense of what this word truly means.
Creating the right environment and atmosphere for a hyggelig experience is helped by having candles (lots of candles), lamplight (no horrible, garish fluorescent lights), a fire place, old fashioned/vintage furniture & decorations, board games, hot drinks, nourishing food, books to read, photo albums to peruse, journals to write, crafts or homemade foods to make, blankets, snuggly jumpers and warm socks. It’s about creating a safe, cosy environment to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Such a hygge space or even a hygge-kol (nook) can be a great place to snug up & read a book for an afternoon but hygge experiences are best shared with a few close friends or family, because it is intrinsically linked to valuing & nurturing relationships in the spirit of togetherness, equality and harmony.
Many of the aspects of hygge that I have mentioned above such as socks, jumpers, hot drinks and fire places reflect the fact that winters in Denmark are long, dark and cold. Practising hygge can make them not only bearable but actually enjoyable. The seasons of Autumn, Winter and especially Christmas are seen to be notably hyggelig. However, it is still very possible to have hygge experiences in the summer because it just requires simplicity, togetherness, comfort and presence. Being able to have a hyggelig time out in nature is a bonus!
I have heard hygge being defined in many descriptive ways including: ‘the ritual of enjoying life’s pleasures and making the ordinary more meaningful, beautiful and special’; ‘the art of building sanctuary and community, of inviting closeness and paying attention to what makes us feel open hearted and alive’; ‘creating wellbeing, connection and warmth’; ‘celebrating the everyday’; ‘a feeling of belonging to the moment and the other’; and also as ‘a cosiness of the soul’.
What is the connection between happiness and hygge?
As I reflect on hygge I can see several reasons why practicing it can lead to increased happiness. Firstly, it relies on creating and maintaining close social connections. The quality and extent of our social connections is the most accurate indicator of our likely level of happiness. Secondly, it requires us to consciously create or spend time in enjoyable environments that make us feel good and inspires us to savour the moment. Being present to the hyggelig experience is really important. Thirdly, we get joy from looking forward to and planning hyggelig events. Fourthly, we get to feel grateful and appreciative when we reflect on the hyggelig events in our lives. These are all key happiness inducing factors. It really is no wonder that when the European Social Survey was done, Denmark had the least percentage of people who seldom enjoy life or rarely feel calm and relaxed.
As mentioned earlier, I listened to an audiobook version of The Little Book of Hygge, which I highly recommend because Meik’s dry, gentle and fun sense of Danish humour really comes through the spoken word in a way that you can miss when you are just reading the book. It’s also nice to get to hear the correct pronunciation of the Danish words. Having said that, I also bought the physical book when I saw it afterwards because it is so beautifully designed and filled with hygge inspiring pictures, so I recommend the hardback book option as something worth getting, to have on the table for your friends to peruse when they come over for hyggelig evenings!
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So I hope that you have found this article interesting and that it may, at the very least, inspire you to have an evening with Cocoa by candlelight. I am actually planning to set up a Hygge Club with friends of mine because I would love to spend more nourishing and pleasurable time with the people that I value in my life and I am sure that they will love it too. It would seem that my new found enthusiasm for the concept of hygge has made me into a “hygge-spreder” – someone who spreads hygge!