Hygge: Living a Contented Life the Danish Way
Imagine sitting around an open fire on a cold night. Your hands are wrapped around a mug of hot chocolate, and the warm glow from a dozen candles is dancing off the walls. Welcome to hygge.
Hygge (pronounced like “hoo-gah”) is a Danish word that translates roughly as “coziness.” But, as any practitioner of hygge will tell you, it’s more than that. Hygge is about well-being. It’s the removal or absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming. It’s a lifestyle choice in which happiness is derived from the simple things that make us feel secure and comforted.
Where to find hygge
Hygge happens all year round in Denmark, but the peak season is winter, when the nights draw in. The Danes use candles, many thousands of them, to illuminate homes, shops, streets, parks and gardens during the long nights of winter.
However, we don’t need to travel to Denmark to enjoy the benefits of hygge, because all the ingredients are around us.
Meik Wiking, author of “The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living,” explains that hygge is about atmosphere and an experience, rather than things. It can, for example, be a kind of “perfect moment.” Wiking describes a moment after a long, tiring walk when he and his friends all gathered around a fireplace. Only the sound of the wood crackling and a stew boiling filled the room. That is an example of hygge.
Danes take hygge seriously. They invest time thinking about design and lighting (Danes buy twice as many lamps as the rest of the world combined), and they like to spend time with friends and family. They also don’t get guilt trips over awarding themselves small treats. How many of us think of the bakery as hygge? The Danes probably do. A treat, a warm bath, a friend for a coffee are all hygge.
No doubt we can all recognize the elements. We probably all have a thick jersey, a few candles, and so on, but does that mean we should embrace those elements, making them our lifestyle? Denmark is regularly voted one of the happiest countries in the world. A typical Danish home will emphasize natural materials and beautiful lighting. The intention is simple. It’s to make everyone feel relaxed and warm.
In an article in The Telegraph in 2015, Helen Russell (who wrote a book called “A Year of Living Danishly”) says “Danes don’t binge or purge and there’s not much yo-yo dieting in Denmark.”
“Instead,” she writes, “people are nice to themselves. This, in turn, makes them happier, and so nicer to each other.”
So, these are just a few elements of hygge. It isn’t hard to understand, but where the Danes have the edge is that they prioritize it, and they live it. Hygge boils down to the pursuit of everyday happiness, togetherness, relaxation, and comfort.
Let’s close with a helpful Scandinavian proverb:
Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; hate less, love more; and all good things are yours.
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