You know that feeling when you’re curled up on a window seat with a cup of tea? Or wrapped in a soft blanket in front of a crackling fire when it’s raining outside? Or sharing comfort food and easy conversation with friends at a candlelit table?
There’s a word for this feeling of cosy contentment in Danish: hygge (pronounced hoo-gah). It roughly translates to ‘cosiness’ but it is so much more than that. Hygge is something you’ve probably already experienced but didn’t have a name for. You can feel it alone, but it is better shared with friends or family. And it is not just for special occasions. So, what is hygge?
Meik Wiking, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, says that explaining hygge can be tricky. Hygge has been called everything from ‘the art of creating intimacy,’ ‘cosiness of the soul’ and ‘the absence of annoyance’ to ‘taking pleasure in the presence of soothing things,’ ‘cosy togetherness,’ and, his personal favourite, ‘cocoa by candlelight.’
Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, says Wiking, rather than about things.
It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down.
The Danish Philosophy of Comfort
Alex Beauchamp, the Danish creator of Hygge House, says hygge is a feeling or moment, whether alone or with friends, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary, that is cosy, charming or special.
It isn’t something you can buy; it’s a feeling. A sense of comfort, togetherness and wellbeing. Beauchamp explains:
Hygge literally only requires a conscious appreciation, a certain slowness, and the ability to not just be present–but recognize and enjoy the present. That’s why so many people distill ‘hygge’ down to being a ‘feeling’–because if you don’t feel hygge, you probably aren’t using the word right.
I’m as guilty as anyone for getting caught up in the busyness of life. But when I do hygge, I love it.
Those times when I’m completely in the moment, laughing with friends, and making small memories that I can keep close to my heart. Hygge is something I want more of in my life. Put simply, it warms my heart.
Hygge is about the now, says Wiking; how to enjoy the moment and make the best of it.
Does Hygge Create Happiness?
Why are the people in Denmark so happy? The answer, says Wiking, is hygge. But hygge creates something deeper than happiness.
Louisa Thomsen Brits, author of The Book of Hygge, puts it perfectly:
A determined pursuit of happiness doesn’t necessarily lead to wellbeing. At the heart of Danish life, and at the core of hygge, is the deeper stability of contentment.
Danes created hygge to deal with long winters and cold nights. For me, Denmark in winter was a cosy wonderland. Wrapped up in a scarf and sipping on hot chocolate, I don’t think I’d ever experienced true cosiness like this before. Everywhere I looked there was the comforting glow of candles in windows, or as they are called in Danish, levende lys, or ‘living lights.’
Though there are many ways to describe hygge, we see it simply as the Danish ritual of enjoying life’s simple pleasures. Friends. Family. Graciousness. Contentment. Good feelings. A warm glow. – Skagen
Hygge for all Seasons
Wiking says Danes are not the only ones who can enjoy the atmosphere, comfort and pleasure that comes from being in good company, in front of the fire with some gløgg (mulled wine).
But how was I going to bring hygge back home to Australia? Chunky knitted sweaters and playing board games by the fire didn’t fit with my lifestyle of summer days filled with ice cream and hot sand between my toes. What I realised was that hygge is not just about getting cosy in winter. It is something you can do all year round.
While summer may not encourage the use of candles and fireplaces, says Wiking, summer can be hyggelig, too.
Summer is the smell of new-mown grass, suntanned skin, sunscreen and saltwater.
Hygge is about creating a cosy atmosphere, recognising the simple pleasures in life, and slowing down. Cuddling on the couch with a loved one for a movie is hygge. Having a beach picnic on cushions with friends under an umbrella–that’s hygge too. And there’s nothing more hygge than lying together on blankets on the grass looking up at the stars.
10 Ways to Embrace Hygge
Hygge creates a sense of connection, a feeling of cosiness, and above all, contentment. So, how do you bring more hygge into your life? Here are ten simple ways to get cosy.
The Hygge Manifesto by Meik Wiking
- Set the mood: Turn down the lights.
- Be present: Be here now. Turn off the phones.
- Treat yourself: Chocolate, coffee, cookies, cakes, candy.
- ‘We’ over ‘me’: Share the tasks and the airtime.
- Be grateful: Take it in. This might be as good as it gets.
- Don’t brag: It’s not a competition. We already like you. There is no need to brag about your achievements.
- Get comfy: Take a break. It’s all about relaxation.
- Ditch drama: Make a truce. Let’s discuss politics another day.
- Togetherness: Build relationships and narratives. “Do you remember the time we…?”
- Create a safe space: This is your tribe. This is a place of peace and security.
You don’t need to wait for a celebration or find a reason to enjoy hygge. It can be felt any day, at anytime.
Life’s Simple Pleasures
There is nothing fancy about hygge. You can create it without spending much money (or any at all). “Champagne and oysters may be many things,” says Wiking. “But hygge is not one of them.”
Hygge is humble and slow. It is choosing rustic over new, simple over posh and ambience over excitement.
You can bring out the board games, have a clothing swap party or play a game in the park. Just a soft blanket and a good book is all it takes.
Another way to be ‘hyggeligt’ is to create small rituals. I brew lemon myrtle tea in a pot and serve it to friends when they visit. I fill my bath up with soothing lavender oil and rose petals from my garden. I meet up with friends to chat about a book each week and share treats. Any comforting ritual that brings you contentment is also hygge.
It is about feeling warm in your heart, and in those moments of hygge, everything is right with the world, and you feel utterly content.
Cosiness for the Soul
If hygge seems like a simple concept, that’s because it is. You don’t need to drastically change your life or the way you think. Getting cosy is something you can do alone, with friends, or in your home, every day.
Hygge is about what we have in abundance: The everyday. – Meik Wiking
It is building a community garden and swapping vegetables. It is having a pot of chai and a chat with a close friend. It is inviting your family over for a summer barbecue.
Hygge is all about the simple pleasures in life. Nothing showy, just comfortable. It makes me think of that quote: “Create a life that feels good on the inside. Not one that just looks good on the outside.” Hygge, says Brit, is an experience of contentment rather than a pursuit of happiness and is about being, not having.
Take the time to slow down. Appreciate the small things. Spend cosy time with your loved ones. And watch hygge become part of your daily life.