If you google “hygge,” you will be bombarded with images of fireplaces, cups of tea, and adorable little cottages in the snow. On Instagram alone, there are over 8 million posts that include the hashtag ‘hygge’– most of which would lead you to believe that in order to “hygge,” you need a carefully curated home filled with chic decor in creams and neutrals. But, hygge is much more than an interior design trend or cups of tea by the fire (though hot drinks and cozy fires are a part of the winter hygge equation).
What is Hygge?
Hygge (pronounced “hoo-ga”) is a Danish word that doesn’t have a direct English translation but means something akin to coziness and connection with others. As Meik Wiking (pronounced “Mike Viking”) says in The Little Book of Hygge, “Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, 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” (vi).
Hygge is about quality time— either with a small group or by yourself— and taking a moment to slow down and savor the people and environment around you. Think of times when you felt the happiest and most connected to your loved ones. These experiences likely have hygge qualities to them— a feeling of warmth, hominess, and connection, perhaps alongside good food and/or warm beverages.
How does one create a sense of hygge?
For the Danes, hygge places an emphasis on warm, soft lighting; nature and elements of nature; candle and fire light; enjoyable food; and cozy togetherness. Basically, creating an environment that feels soothing, calm, and warm with people you love.
In The Little Book of Hygge, Wiking outlines the key elements of hygge in his “Hygge Manifesto,” which we have paraphrased here:
- Atmosphere: think of low/warm lighting, candles, or golden hour light.
- Presence: turn those devices off and stay in the now.
- Pleasure: yummy treats like coffee/tea, cakes, pastries, cookies, etc.
- Equality: focus on shared tasks and conversation space– “we” over “me.”
- Gratitude: take time to recognize and savor the good happening right now.
- Harmony: no bragging or one-upping to impress people – be yourself; your loved ones already like you.
- Comfort: snuggle down into some blankets and put on some cozy socks or comfy pants.
- Truce: put aside conversations about divisive or heavy topics – these conversations are important, but it’s okay to pause for a bit and savor the moment.
- Togetherness: focus on building relationships and reminiscing about other good times you’ve had together.
- Shelter: These are your people. You are safe and secure with them.
And the best part? You don’t need to spend a lot of money and energy to create hygge – in fact, hygge is less about tangible things and spending money and more about quality time. Wrap yourself up in that old blanket that makes you feel so cozy and comforted, light some candles, and curl up with a good book and a warm drink. Gather a small group of friends and family, prepare a communal meal, sit around a fire, or have a game night. Take the opportunity to unplug from the outside world for a little while and just enjoy the now.
The Science of Hygge
So why try to incorporate elements of Hygge into your life? Well, for starters, year after year, Denmark is ranked as the happiest country in the world and, according to the European Social Survey, they are also the ones who spend the most time with friends and family (Wiking 25), so anecdotally they might be on to something; however, there is also scientific evidence that supports the idea that incorporating hygge into your life is beneficial to your health and well-being.
Our brains are wired to seek out pleasurable experiences like eating delicious foods, getting and giving physical affection, and experiencing feelings of belonging– all of which are key elements of hygge. In humanity’s cave-dwelling days, these types of experiences helped keep us alive and safe. And while saber-toothed tiger attacks are no longer a factor in our day-to-day lives, we still need these same stimuli to have an overall sense of well-being.
Rewarding experiences trigger your brain’s release of dopamine, a chemical responsible for allowing you to feel pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation. It is basically the “feel good” brain chemical, but it also plays a role in sleep, concentration, memory, and overall mood. By incorporating dopamine-releasing activities – like enjoying a freshly baked pastry and coffee with a dear friend or taking a pleasant hike with your family – into your regular schedule, you will increase your overall sense of happiness and contentment.
Try a Little Hygge
In a world that often demands our attention be in 10 different places at the same time, it can be beneficial to intentionally take time to slow down and savor the good things in life. Be it a cozy night on the couch watching a movie with a friend or a walk in nature with your family, the more you can take time to relax, recharge, and reconnect, the happier you will be.
Hygge is about taking a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life to be with the people you care about.
Want to learn more about Hygge?
The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking
What Do We Mean by “Hygge”?
The Year of Hygge, the Danish Obsession with Getting Cozy
Hygge: The Classroom Design Word That Means Calm
12 Ways to Bring Hygge to Your Classroom
Hygge Adjacent: Check out our 4-week self-care challenge — perhaps a hygge goal fits in there for you!