What’s the Deal with Hygge?

Do you ever listen to someone speaking and think, man they just really get me.

This happened to me in the car yesterday, nodding my head incessantly while listening to a podcast.

The subject? The Danish philosophy that’s taking the wellness industry by storm these days, hygge. It’s been popularized by authors such as Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute (uh hi, here’s my resume) and author of The Little Book of Hygge.

It’s pronounced, hoo-gah, by the way. And in the most basic sense, it means coziness, although not really. It’s one of those words that defies literal translation in other cultures. Like when I try to explain to my mom how “the cloud” works.

It’s a word for that distinct feeling of being wrapped up in quilted blankets by the fire wearing wool socks, sipping mulled wine, candles ablaze. You know what I mean. Just search “cozy” on Pinterest.


This is great news for me, because I am intimately familiar with this concept and I didn’t even know it had a name. You might even say I now have an official label for my all my regular activities! (Not being lazy tonight, just going to catch up on my hygge, you know.)

I’ve never understood people who get home after a long day and don’t immediately change into sweatpants. I spend most days wrapped in my plaid blanket, approximately eight inches away from my space heater. “Let’s just stay in, drink wine and relax!” I urge, when making plans with friends.

So the obvious question here is whether or not I should pick up and move to Denmark. Are these “my people”? I enjoyed my trip to Copenhagen after all, and do appreciate Scandinavian design.

In my research, Danish apartment rentals included, I came across a bunch of Hygge material. Turns out this is a bigger trend than I thought, and I’m actually a bit behind. It was on the Word of the Year shortlist for 2016 for crying out loud! Is Hygge the next KonMari Method?!

Here is the official definition:

A quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture).

What makes Hygge characteristic of Danish culture, I wondered? According to Wiking,

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.

Ah-ha! So this is about a lifestyle, more than something we can really acquire or possess.

cozy dinner party

The more I looked into it, the more I realized it to be the case. Coziness aside, it’s about making time for our well-being and tuning into what makes us feel more open and alive. Danes aren’t after the textured throw pillows or dimly-lit dinner parties, although those are certainly included. It’s less about the food being served (though, you’re best off with something like mac and cheese or shepherd’s pie) and more about putting the phone down and having a deep conversation with the people sitting around you.

We’re all looking for a little more space and connection, and Hygge offers it, with pillars like “togetherness” and “present”.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this concept has come into play at a time when people are more burnt out than ever. The thought of hitting the bar after a long day or running between a million activities on the weekend has lost its luster a bit, hasn’t it? The whole “I’m so busy” thing is kind of overrated anyway. It’s becoming much more appealing to slow down and take pleasure in the simple things.

Is Hygge an over-hyped trend that marketers are capitalizing on? Sure. Just look at all the books coming out on the subject.

Then look at The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Trendy? Of course. But that book sold over 5 MILLION copies because it truly did change people’s lives.

The Danes are definitely onto something.

So, grab your comfiest chunky knit sweater, light the tea candles, and take the hygge manifesto for a test drive with these ideas:

1. Stay off your phone

Perhaps the most obvious one. Hygge is all about being present and we can’t do that when we’re scrolling through Instagram while chatting with friends. You can borrow my family’s game if you want! Everyone puts their phones in the middle of the table and the first person to grab theirs buys the next round of drinks.

2. Get together 

The tricky thing about Hygge is that we are encouraged to get cozy and relax (which lends itself nicely to the couch and a good Netflix binge), but a major pillar is togetherness. So we have to make more of an effort to gather ‘round. According to Wiking, “It might be playing board games on Fridays, or a monthly cooking club, or any meaningful activity that will knit the group more tightly together.” “Shelter” is also a big pillar, so instead of going out, try to bring the party home.

3. Chill out

Okay this is the most interesting one if you ask me. Coloring books by the fire? Easy, done. But two pillars of Hygge are “harmony” and “truce” which are tougher to embody. Wiking suggests using the mentality “we over me” which means making a conscious effort during those conversations when it feels like everyone is waiting to talk and nobody is actually listening. This is particularly common in political discussions, which by the way, are not encouraged. “Save the politics for another day,” says Wiking. Hygge is all about relaxed thoughtfulness.

If all of this is stirring up something inside you, grab a copy of The Little Book of Hygge! What do you think, are these pillars you can live by? Maybe you already do? Tell me in the comments below.

Featured images via Pinterest. Obviously. 

Also published on Medium.

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