Hygge

Pronounced "HUE-gah"

This is the danish word for a feeling of coziness, a mood of contentment and wellness and comfort, often shared with friends or family.
You might have heard of Hygge before. It’s been quite a trending subject in news and blogs, and books about Hygge having been selling like hot cakes. You can even order a box subscription to have Hygge-esque items delivered to you monthly.
Why?
And why have we devoted a page, here in our section about happiness, to talking about Hygge?
It’s simple: this Danish word elegantly captures a feeling and/or atmosphere which includes some of the most potent ingredients for happiness.

What is Hygge, really?

Etymology from Wikipedia:
The word hygge comes from a Danish word meaning “wellbeing”. But it is also speculated that hygge might originate from the word hug. Hug comes from the 1560s word hugge, which means “to embrace”. The word hugge is of unknown origin but is highly associated with an Old Norse term, hygga, which means “to comfort”, which comes from the word hugr, meaning “mood”. In turn, the word comes from the Germanic word hugyan, which relates to the Old English hycgan, meaning “to think, consider”.
It first appeared in Danish writing in the 19th Century and has since evolved into the cultural idea known in Denmark and Norway today. While hygge has exactly the same meaning in Norwegian as in Danish and is a widely used word in Norway (including in its derived forms, such as hyggelig), the emphasis specifically on “hygge” as an important part of their cultural identity is mostly a recent Danish phenomenon; in Norway “hygge” is just a word, similar in status to “cozy” in English-speaking countries.
Do you ever get that feeling when you’re in a room with a few of your closest friends or family that everything is ok with you and the world, and you could simply melt into the comfort of the moment? Maybe it was around a board game, or in a quiet room of loved-ones reading. That feeling is Hygge.
Denmark consistently ranks among the happiest countries in the world. Is it any surprise that they have words to describe uniquely happy feelings?
Danish people use the word Hygge often, most usually as an adjective, but sometimes as a verb. While some Danes will say it can’t be translated, or even claim it is a uniquely Danish feeling, the rest of the world can relate. Some might even say we NEED a word like this in other languages to focus our attention on Hominess (the closest equivalent word in English).
Within a Hygge feeling, there are elements of Love and Togetherness, the Pleasure of material comfort, and even the Flow of social interaction and co-mingling.
Hygge gives us social support. Within Maslow’s pyramid of human needs, Love and Belonging is readily addressed with “hyggelig” activities.
Though Hygge doesn’t bring self-esteem, meaning, or self-actualization, per se, it does bring something that we all need: social comfort.
And, as a note, Maslow’s Heirarchy is not accurate. It ignores the actual mechanisms behind covering our basic needs. That is, it fails to acknowledge the fact that the higher elements on the pyramid are actually natural, evolved ways of satisfying basic needs. Something to take away from this (besides the fact that this over-used model often gets it very wrong) is that social needs can sometimes be as important as physiological needs.

What does Hygge Look Like?

Hygge precedes modern civilization and the Danes.
Gathering around a campfire and chomping on a fresh kill with your tribe was once Hyggelig.
Now…
Hygge is an extra hour in bed.
Hygge is a lazy sunday morning with tea.
It is the window nook where you read and forget about the world.
It is a warm fire giving heat and light to a room.
Hygge is candlelight, sweat pants, thick socks, and knitted things.
Hot chocolate, the smell of fresh-baked bread in the home, and throw blankets, are Hygge.
Are you starting to feel it?
Candle-light is viewed by the Danes as an instant recipe for Hygge. In fact, they burn more candle wax per-capita than any other culture. There is something comforting in the warm light of flames, and the mood that they set for a room is uniquely Hygge.

Hygge Happiness

Research looking at happy people sees a very clear pattern: meaningful and positive social relationships. The communal affirmation and gratitude that emerges from time spent in Hygge-like activities covers some solid ground in achieving happiness.
Happiness varies following the quality of our relationships, especially with loved ones, than with almost anything, like wealth.
Other than with our loved ones, our relationships in our communities and at work are also important. It’s valuable to feel ‘at home’, even when you’re not in the home.
Unsurprisingly, happiness also increases our level of sociability. There are studies suggesting that being happier leads to better relationships. Hygge, a warm and cozy homeliness, is itself readily achievable. Easily affected by our physical environment and clearly identified through a few social paradigms like relaxed non-expectation and games, we can literally organize a room for social relaxation, and therefor more happiness.
This may give us a clue about why Danes consistently score the highest in Global Happiness:
Their very language and culture drives them to prioritize relationships, spending time with friends and family in a shared feeling of cozy comfort.

Hygge Isn't Everything

It sounds like a powerful amalgamation of ingredients for happiness. So, can I simply focus on fostering a Hyggelig atmosphere throughout life and thereby ensure my own happiness?
Well, no. Not exactly.
The thing is, this feeling can only get one so far. And, it’s important to note that Hyggelig activities can satiate with satisfying. Filling your life with Hygge would feel good, but is unlikely to be a sustainable source of Joy.
An atmosphere of Hygge, though full with material comfort and contentedness, may be described as, well, limiting. In Denmark, Hygge requires equal participation from everyone, each person taking the task of not introducing challenge to a situation. British Anthropologist Richard Jenkins has called it “normative to the point of coercive.” In Denmark, as there are strong taboos against bringing politics or religion into a Hygge atmosphere. From a Happiness Types point of view, Hygge offers number Type 1: Ephemeral Pleasures, and maybe small doses of Love and Service, but little else in terms of well-rounded Meaning and Joy. Hygge is about keeping things light and breezy. Joy? Maybe. Easiness. Yes.
In fact, some people think that Denmark’s source of happiness isn’t Hygge, but is instead a combination of antidepressants and a social norm against complaining. The informal Danish Ten Commandments is also a surprising look at the world’s ‘happiest’ country. You can find more criticism about Denmark’s image of Hygge and happiness on these articles: 1, 2, 3.
So, don’t expect for Hygge to lead you to Bliss. For that, you’ll want to fill your life with Meaning and Purpose, as well as, preferably, engaged pleasures.

Learn more about Hygge with these books. They’re FABULOUS!

And for a deeper dive into the happiness of gathering – perhaps an antithesis to hygge – check out The Art of Gathering.