Denmark is continually rated as one of the happiest and most contented societies in the world, so it’s no wonder we’re fascinated with their secrets to happy living. A big part of the Danish way of life is experiencing hygge.
You have probably already experienced some of the hygge “trend” that has been rippling across the world. Chances are you are attracted to the cosiness and closeness that’s central to this Danish-born philosophy.
While hygge is not new to Scandinavians, this way of living could not have been shared with the rest of the world at a better time — when we are all living such fast-paced and technology-overloaded lives. Hygge offers us respite from the modern problems of exhaustion, adrenal fatigue and disconnection; from ourselves, our communities and where we live. It seems that hygge encompasses all the things that our minds, bodies and souls are craving. Hallelujah!
Meik Wiking, author of The Little Book of Hygge and CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, has spent years studying the magic of Danish life. Meik writes that hygge has no direct translation and has been called everything from “cosiness of the soul” to “the absence of annoyance” and, his personal favourite, “cocoa by candlelight”.
Hygge is a term that names our desire for comfort, simplicity and peacefulness. It’s not a concept that only the Danish have a monopoly over, but its power comes from them consciously choosing to weave it into their everyday lives to such an extent that it’s described as a part of their DNA.
Hygge is essentially a philosophy for living that encompasses warmth, togetherness, safety, familiarity, peacefulness, simplicity and contentment. It’s no wonder the global awareness of this concept has taken off as so many of us are yearning to slow down and create more joyful, fulfilling and sustainable lives.
So what does hygge feel like and what can we learn from Denmark in terms of hygge, happiness and health?
Time with your tribe
There are countless studies that show how important social connection is to our health and wellbeing. Without it, our health declines at a greater rate than from the effects of obesity, smoking and high blood pressure. With it, strong social connections increase our immune system function, lower our anxiety and boost our self-esteem.
Hygge is about experiencing meaningful, sincere and loving connections with others. It is usually described as a shared sense of “this is my tribe” where there is a genuine connection, care and contentment between friends and family. It’s similar to the Buddhist concept of loving-kindness and realising that we are all vulnerable, precious and connected to each other.
In all of Meik’s years of research at the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, he says, “This is the point I am surest about: the best predictor of whether we are happy or not is our social relationships.”
In your relationship with your family and friends, it’s about enjoying their company without being controlling, competitive or jealous. Make time to be with them to share stories, feelings and enjoyable experiences to embrace this feeling of being meaningfully connected.
Sharing fun, uplifting stories from your past is a great way to connect with family and friends.
The decision to incorporate hygge into your life needs to be a conscious one — not only from the onset but every day as you weave it into your life. It’s essential that the homely cosiness that is hygge is created consciously to ensure it’s fully embraced, enjoyed and savoured.
A family meal is hygge when all your family members actively make the decision to be present when sharing a meal. Start by choosing to turn off all electronic devices to eliminate distractions, sit together at the table and listen to each other’s stories.
Hygge is an experience that’s all about feeling at home, which really refers to where you feel safe to be yourself. It’s not exclusively felt at home or with family. It’s about feeling safe, secure, content and present with the ones we love.
Our need for shelter and safety is at our core, but hygge highlights the importance that this comes from a desire for comfort and not from a desire to rise above each other. Consider ways you can create a sense of warmth and security within all areas of your life without needing to compare and compete with others.
Lighting is one the most significant element of hygge. No recipe for hygge would be complete without considering lighting to maintain a softness, as with candles. The Danes burn more candles per head than any other group in Europe. Meik says, “The Danish obsession with lighting comes from their lack of contact with it in the natural world from October to March.”
It’s the light that candles create that’s important. It’s warm and soft, and creates a greater depth of atmosphere. The aim is to turn our living spaces into homely sanctuaries with small caves of light around the room.
The Danes prefer natural and organic candles and consider scented candles artificial. Candles can be found burning in classrooms and boardrooms.
Being, not having
Simplicity is at the heart of hygge. It is about being, not having, and celebrating life’s simple pleasures. “Hygge happens when we commit to the pleasure of the present moment in its simplicity,” says Louisa Thomsen Brits in The Book of Hygge.
Virtually anything can be hyggelig, although the Danes do have lists of things that qualify. It’s less about choosing the right activity and following rules and more about knowing what makes you feel peaceful, content and secure.
Hygge cannot be bought or sold. It is a philosophy for living that allows you to fully embrace experiences with your mind, body and soul. Many cultures have an equivalent of “sitting down to have a nice cup of tea”, but in the Danish philosophy it’s about experiencing this ritual fully and in a way that is similar to the mindful awareness practices of Buddhist teachings and yoga practices.
The key is to embrace the experiences you love, fully and completely. These experiences can be shared, solo, at home or work-based — it doesn’t matter. Allow yourself to live them in the moment and appreciate how they nourish your spirit as well as their other tangible benefits, like nourishing your body with a good meal or soaking in warm bath.
Charlotte Abrahams, the writer behind Hygge, a Celebration of Simple Pleasures. Living theDanish Way, writes,“It is about taking a break from the rush of life and really noticing that break. I think the distinctive thing about hygge is the fact that it gives those moments of downtime a name and that means we are more likely to make time for them and regard them as important.”
Hygge is all about taking a break from eating healthy and giving yourself an opportunity to enjoy sweet and indulgent treats. “Sweets are hyggelige. Cake is hyggeligt. Coffee or hot chocolate are hyggeligt, too. Carrot sticks, not so much,” Meik says. Meik believes the high level of meat, confectionary and coffee consumption in Denmark links directly to hygge.
Although the Danish burn more candles per capita than any other nation in the world and enjoy sweet and indulgent treats, they are not known for type 2 diabetes and fire hazards; they are known for happiness.
“Hygge is about being kind to yourself — giving yourself a treat and giving yourself, and each other, a break from the demands of healthy living,” Meik says.
How to hygge?
Even if you don’t live in Denmark, here are some easy ways you can incorporate more hygge into your life. It doesn’t need to be a cold winter’s day to be inspired to embrace the cosiness of hygge. Its essence can be embraced in any climate and celebrates the season you are experiencing.
Five quick tips for bringing more hygge into your life:
- Ask yourself where you feel most at home?
- What activities and rituals anchor and ground you?
- What activities and rituals help you to unwind?
- Who makes you feel at ease?
- What contributes most to your sense of wellbeing?
Hygge at home
In many ways, hygge begins at home. Many of the welcoming images we have come to know as hygge are of living rooms with warm, heavy, woven knit blankets, roaring fires and cups of hot chocolate. Remember, “Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience rather than about things,” says Meik.
If you are wanting to craft a hygge experience at your home, here are some of the essential elements you should consider:
Soft lighting, warming foodsand tactile objects: “A hyggelige interior is not just about how things look; it’s just as much about how things feel. Letting your fingers run across a wooden table, a warm ceramic cup or through the hairs of the skin of a reindeer is a distinctly different feeling from being in contact with something made from steel, glass or plastic,” says Meik.
Decorative items, preferably from nature, including plenty of plants that reflect and resonate with you: “Hyggelige homes should be a reflection of who you are, so curate collections of personal treasures on coffee tables, mantelpieces and windowsills,” Charlotte explains.
Make a hyggekrog: “The one thing that every home needs is a hyggekrog, which roughly translates to ‘a nook’. It’s the place in the room where you love to snuggle up in a blanket with a book and a cup of tea,” says Charlotte.
Hygge at work
The Danes believe hygge is not restricted to cosy cabins and snuggling in front of the fire. Hygge should also be experienced at the office.
Any efforts to make work spaces more casual and authentic will impact on your happiness and health at work. Consider ways to make your work space and work routine more comfortable.
If your workplace doesn’t permit candle burning, instead focus on natural lighting, taking breaks to chat with co-workers who connect with you in a kind and open-hearted manner and finding a comfortable lounge chair or park bench to sit on and enjoy your natural environment.
Consciously embracing hygge throughout your work day will replenish your spirit and give you more energy to enjoy evenings with your family and friends.
A hygge manisfesto
- Atmosphere: turn down the lights.
- Presence: be here and now. Turn off phones.
- Equality: “we” over “me”. Share the tasks and the airtime.
- Pleasure: coffee, chocolate, cake and cookies.
- Gratitude: take it in. This might be as good as it gets.
- Harmony: it’s not a competition. We already like you. There is no need to brag about your achievements.
- Comfort: get comfy and take a break. It’s all about relaxation.
- Truce: no drama. Let’s discuss politics another day.
- Togetherness: Build relationships and narratives. “Do you remember the time we …?”
- Shelter: This is your tribe. This is a place of peace and security.
Remember, hygge is where the heart is.
Could hygge be the remedy to the busy, disconnected and exhausting lives we live? It’s up to you to find out. Spend more time with your tribe, be present with the ones you love and savour the simple pleasures, indulgences and experiences that make your spirit sing.
First published on wellbeing.com.au