Hygge: A How-to Guide to the Danish Lifestyle

What is it?

Hygge is the danish word for a mood of coziness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment. A magical feeling easily achieved by slowing down, taking a breath and living in the moment. A celebration of gratitude, family and coming together.

Imagine a world where everyday is Christmas, people are generous, strangers are kind to each other, families get together, dinner is hearty and yummy. There’s music in the air, conflicts are resolved, mistakes are forgiven, resentments are forgotten. You feel safe and warm and happy.

Is a lifestyle, a mind set, is a way to live a more fulfilling life, a simpler life.
 “Hygge is about an atmosphere and the experience it is not about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling we are safe that we are shielded from the world… to be able to let our guard down.”Meik Wiking (author of The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living)

Where does it come from?

It first appeared in Danish writing in the 19th Century and has since evolved into the cultural idea known in Denmark today. While hygge has exactly the same meaning in Norwegian as in Danish and is a widely used word in both Norway and Denmark, 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.

Winter season can be miserable in Scandinavian countries with 17 hours of darkness everyday with temperatures below 0°C. Is enough to drive one insane, and yet, Scandinavia is a happy region, they are the top 5 happiest countries in the world in World Happiness Reports from the U.N. since 2012. 

How to do it?

Danes are the happiest people because they make happiness a priority. They take time to celebrate small achievements, they make a big deal out of simple pleasures, they create small rituals that bring joy.

There’s no right way or wrong way to hygge. It all depends of where you live, what you do and who you are. Not everyone like the same things and the concept of happiness is different for everyone. So, the hygge enjoyed by a twenty-something guy in London will be different from that of a mother in her late thirties with 3 small children from Florida.

Hygge At home

  • Declutter. There’s nothing worse than coming home from work to an uninviting and messy space. Organize your home in a way that pleases you, throw away excess junk, living with less makes it easier to clean your home, saving time and effort in the future.
  • Fix what’s broken. A unhinged door, squeaky toilet sit, leaky faucet are all contributors of elevating stress levels at home. Those are all minor fixes that could be done in minutes, but we, with our busy lives, postpone them until they start to pile up. The result is a “this house is falling apart” feeling. Take some time to fix everything and don’t let this kind of thing accumulate in the future.
  • Decorate with pieces that bring joy. Make your space feel warm and welcoming so you can feel safe and relaxed when you get home. The trendy hygge blog posts out there will tell you that furry rugs and chunky blankets are the way to go. And indeed those are very cozy things, but maybe you don’t like furry rugs, maybe just the thought of having to clean it gives you anxiety or maybe you have allergies. Personalize your home accordingly to your taste and needs.
  • Create an atmosphere of coziness. The concept of coziness is different for everyone, as the world’s largest consumers of candles in the world, any danish person would tell you that candles are the staples of creating a hygge environment. But I, as an owner of a naughty cat, who likes to knock thing off tables all the time, I can tell you that I would never be relaxed with an open flame in my home. So, if you have pets, maybe consider electronic candles or twinkle lights instead.
  • Tell your story. Family photos, lots of plants, art works, favorite flowers and travel mementos are wonderful ways to display your story, surround yourself with good memories and they also serve as a great conversation starters with guests.

Hygge At work

  • Personalize your workspace. Bring a little of hygge from home to your office. Family photos, plants or trinkets that bring joy are great ways to surround yourself with happiness.
  • Commit to your work instead of considering it a chore. Focus on aspects of the work that you enjoy and find new ways to improve the aspects you don’t like as much. Come home with a sense of accomplishment for a job well done rather than defeated and stressed.
  • Enjoy lunchtime. Go outside, smell the fresh air, go for a walk, try a new path, chat with coworkers about the weekend. Avoid using lunchtime for chores like going to the bank. Forget about work for a while, you’ll come back felling fresh with new energy.
  • Have a good sense of humor. Make jokes, laugh, break the ice between workmates. Maintaining a light mood at the workplace keep the stress levels low and bring people together.
  • Think before you speak. Take a moment to think if what you’re about to say is wise, if your intention is good, wether it hurts or helps. Is easy to criticize and point fingers, but is much more helpful to contribute and support. Avoid gossip and drama.
  • Make friends. Workmates can be more than just people you hang with at work. Showing personal interest in the lives of your colleagues is an indication that you really care. Everyone likes to share their experiences and feelings, by displaying interest, you create a hygge atmosphere and friendship in the workplace begin to flourish.

Hygge With family

  • Dinner time is family time. Cook together, set the table as a group. No phones, no TV, no distractions. It’s an opportunity for conversation, for everyone to share about their day. No judgements, no bickering, no complaining, just enjoying each other.
  • Create family traditions. Game night, movie night, karaoke night, maybe a contest of sorts. Spending quality fun time as family strengthen the bonds, reduce stress and increases happiness.
  • Support each others interests. Go together as a family to soccer games, piano recitals, dance presentations. Share what you love with your loved ones and learn about stuff they’re passioned about.
  • Disconnect from the world, connect with each other. Outdoor activities like picnics, bike rides, hikes or camping are perfect opportunities to unplug and enjoy nature together.
  • Do household chores together. A great way to teach small children family and home values is to include them in the housework. Toddlers love to “help”. Let them crack the eggs when you’re baking, give them an extra rag to clean the windows, tell the to empty the dryer, set the table or feed the dog.

Hygge With friends

  • Make time for friends. Time is the best gift we have to give. Instead of grabbing a quick coffee in the middle of the week, in between errands and work, clear out a whole Sunday to spend time with a dar friend. Make memories together, have a real conversation, connect.
  • Invite friends over as often as you can. And I mean real friends, people you don’t have to put on makeup for, or dress up or clean the house. People who you don’t mind seen you in pajamas. Real friends. Eliminate the stress of hosting the perfect event and surround yourself with people you love, laugh together, cook together, clean together afterwards. Share the whole experience.
  • Take a road trip. Wether is a ski trip or a surf trip, being outdoors together with friends, experiencing nature is as hygge as it gets. Light a fire, sing songs, tell stories, play games, watch the sunset, laugh and connect.

Hygge By yourself

  • Be in the moment. Is a simple concept, but easier said than done. With our frantic modern lives, is really hard to literally stop and smell the roses. These days is more like, stop briefly for an insta selfie of me in front of this rose. Is the do versus the be. We spend too much time doing and not enough time just being.
  • Spend time doing what you love. “Me time” is one of the big ones when it comes to hygge. Read a book, watch a movie, take a bubble bath, eat cake. Let your mind drift, let yourself relax.
  • Take up a new hobby. Let your creative side loose. Lear a new skill. Maybe knitting or embroidery. Perhaps a musical instrument. Teach your dog some cool tricks. Give writing a go. Paint with Bob Ross. Try baking a cake. Or start a garden. Anything to keep you from mindlessly scrolling down the feed. Occupy yourself with something concrete, that you can enjoy and be proud of when is complete.
  • Care for mind and body. Surround yourself with things that make you happy and relaxed. You know that peacefulness you feel when you go to a spa? Why not create your own spa in your bathroom every night. Some candles, a fluffy robe, soft towels, calm music, soothing smells. That delicious meal Nanna use to make that taste like your childhood? Get the recipe, try it out, make a special night out of it. Like a date with yourself. That awesome feeling of been pampered when you go to a hotel? Why not recreate it in your own bedroom. Egyptian cotton sheets, comfy pillow, blackout curtains, fireplace, a cup of warm tea using your favorite mug.
  • Be grateful. This might be as good as it gets. Not to say you shouldn’t work hard to improve your life, but sometimes we loose track. We get so obsessed about getting the next thing, we forget to appreciate the thing we already own. Content yourself with what you already achieved, be grateful for it, celebrated it.

Hygge is all about the moment, that feeling of being safe and protected from the harsh world outside. Is about being with the people you love, doing the things you love, making happiness a priority.

If it feels like drinking hot cocoa, while wearing that favorite chunky sweater, sitting in a really comfy chair by a fireplace, with a cat on your lap, reading an awesome book, then you’re doing it right.

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking introduces you to this cornerstone of Danish life, and offers advice and ideas on incorporating it into your own life.