Denmark consistently ranks as one of the happiest countries in the world. But why? Well, a concept called “hygge,” pronounced “HOO-gah,” is believed to be a big part of that. But what is it? Well, that’s a little harder to put into words. So I turned to Danish happiness expert Meik Wiking, the founder and chief executive of the Happiness Institute, to help us better understand hygge.
What Is Hygge?
Wiking, author of The Little Book of Hygge, explains that hygge has been called everything from “the art of creating intimacy” and “cosiness of the soul” to “cocoa by candlelight.” While hygge is a year-round concept in Denmark, it’s becoming a more commonly adopted practice to help others around the world get through the dark winter months. Think of it as making the ordinary extraordinary. With a mindful component of focusing on and enjoying a simple moment, hygge is something Americans could certainly use more of. (American ranked #13 in the 2016 world happiness index, while Denmark consistently captures the #1 in United Nations happiness rankings.) (1)
Some of the key ingredients of hygge include:
Wiking says the true essence of hygge is the pursuit of everyday happiness — it’s basically like a hug, just without the physical touch. And it’s engrained in the culture of Denmark. Wiking told The New York Times that “Danes see hygge as a part of our culture, the same way you see freedom as inherently American.” (2)
Here’s an example Wiking shared to help understand hygge:
One December, just before Christmas, I was spending the weekend with some friends at an old cabin. The shortest day of the year was brightened by the blanket of snow covering the surrounding landscape. When the sun set, around four in the afternoon, we would not see it again for seventeen hours, and we headed instead to get the fire going.
We were all tired after hiking and were half asleep, sitting in a semicircle around the fireplace in the cabin, wearing big jumpers and wool socks. The only sounds you could heat were the stew boiling, the sparks from the fireplace and someone having a sip of their mulled wine. Then one of my friends broke the silence.
“Could this be any more hygge?” he asked rhetorically.
“Yes,” one of the girls said, “if there was a storm raging outside.”
Hygge is about feeling safe and secure and, ultimately, you know it when you feel it: it can also be cuddling up to a loved one on the sofa or sharing comfort food with your closest friends.
How to Get More Hygge into Your Life
Perhaps Benjamin Franklin said it best: “Happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasure that occur every day than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom.”
Think of it as giving yourself and others a treat, to savor these moments — and the simple moments of good food and good company. Eat cake with friends, make sure the lighting is right and seek to create the perfect hyggekrog in your home.
Wiking shares this hygge manifesto from his book to help us all get a little more hygge in our lives:
- Turn down the lights.
- Bring out the candles. (Dr. Axe note: Never ones with fake fragrances; I recommend beeswax only to avoid petrochemicals and toxic synthetic scents.)
- Build relationships and narratives.
- Gather and talk about things like, “Do you remember the time, we …?”
- Take it in.
- Understand that this might be as good as it gets.
- We over me.
- Share the tasks and the airtime.
Using Hygge to Find Out What’s Really Important
So what is true happiness? More and more people around the world are questioning what defines happiness. Many feel left behind, particularly when there is talk of their country moving forward.
We hear of growth, of prosperity and rising levels of GDP per capita — but at the same time feel that our lives have not improved. I think people are beginning to realize that we have decoupled wealth and wellbeing, and have failed to convert wealth into wellbeing— at a country level and also at a personal level. Hopefully, hygge can be an understanding of the decoupling wealth and wellbeing. After our basic needs are met, we realize that more money doesn’t lead to happiness and, instead, we focus on what brings us a better quality of life.
Final Thoughts on Hygge
- The Danish concept of hygge is a bit hard to put into words, but some of its key ingredients include togetherness, relaxation, indulgence, presence and comfort
- To create more hygge in your life, burn beeswax candles in the home, indulge in clean comfort foods, spend a lot of time together telling stories and appreciating the small moments in life and focus on being present in the moment.