This is the danish word for a feeling of coziness, a mood of contentment and wellness and comfort, often shared with friends or family.
Let’s get the pronunciation out of the way. Here is how to pronounce Hygge, just as the Danish do:
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 Hygge feelings or moments, we may find different blends of the 4 Elements of Well-Being. There are aspects of Love and Togetherness, the Pleasure of material comfort, and even the Flow of social interaction and co-mingling.
“Hyggelig” activities might give us social support. And even if it isn’t deep and meaningful, scenarios of the Hygge type can fulfill basic social needs and comforts, like belonging and community.
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.
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 and ‘Happiness’
Research looking at “happy” people sees a very clear pattern: meaningful living, especially in positive social relationships. The communal affirmation and gratitude that emerges from time spent in Hygge-like activities covers some solid ground in achieving this.
Happiness varies following the quality of our relationships, especially with loved ones, moreso 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 at home.
Unsurprisingly, “happiness” also increases our level of sociability. 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 therefore more “happiness” of this sort.
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 well-being. So why not keep “happiness” simple? Keeping a Hyggelig atmosphere throughout life could be a key a key to well-being.
Well, no. Hygge is great, and…shouldn’t be overestimated.
Hyggelig activities can satiate with satisfaction. Filling your life with Hygge would feel good, but is unlikely to be a sustainable source of Joy.
An atmosphere of Hygge, though full of 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, there are strong taboos against bringing politics or religion into a Hygge atmosphere. From an Elements point of view, Hygge offers #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.
*Living an overly comfortable life is common. And it’s complicated. For that reason, there is an entire section on the subject. Go check it out: