The Danish Concept of Hygge: What It Is, and Why It's So Cool Right Now
Think about how you started the day. Did you reach for your phone to catch up on emails, Facebook chatter, Twitter notifications, and Instagram posts? Did you open your iPad to see what’s trending in the media? Will you toggle between apps, screens, podcasts, and Spotify playlists throughout the day? Did you spend dinner more fully engaged with your phone than whoever’s sitting across from you?
Nodding along? You’re not alone: According to research, U.S. consumers spend a whopping five hours each day on mobile devices—which is nearly double the amount as in 2013.
If this sounds familiar, chances are good you could benefit from the Danish concept of hygge. Pronounced HUE-guh, hygge is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as "a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being." In fact, hygge was a finalist for Oxford Dictionaries’ 2016 Word of the Year—no surprise, given the on-demand, always-connected lives many of us lead every day.
As of late, hygge has starting making its way into Western culture, too. But what does hygge really entail—and why is it so popular with in Denmark, whose resident are routinely cited as the happiest in the world? Here’s what it’s all about—and why you could stand to inject a little hygge into the upcoming holiday season.
What is Hygge?
From a grammar perspective, hygge can be a verb ("I hygged yesterday”) and a noun (”I need some hygge this weekend”). But more than that, it’s a state of mind. Hygge is about turning off your screens, reveling in life’s simple pleasures, like a casual hike or cooking dinner with friends, and connecting with those closest to you.
Communications consultant Kay Xander Mellish, who grew up in Wisconsin and has lived in Denmark since 2000, says that hygge is all about "the simple things in life." The podcast host and author of How to Live in Denmark says that hygge means “taking time to focus on your personal relationships, on nature, on enjoying what you have, on being cozy, and not trying to take in the world—but focusing on what’s right in front of you, while it’s right in front of you.”
Put another way: "Hygge is saying ‘no’ to stimulus and ‘yes’ to being comfortable."
Why is Hygge So Popular Now?
Hygge isn’t a new concept—the word traces its roots to a centuries-old Norwegian term that describes comfort and coziness—but it feels especially important in our modern, hectic lives. "We live in a world where there’s so much to do," Mellish says. “Online, you have access to so many books, so many TV shows, and all these fake friends. Your mind can’t handle it all. Hygge is about *not *doing it all—it’s about doing one thing.”
You know how, every so often, you need a solo Saturday to rest and recharge? Maybe you spend the day sleeping in, nursing a cup of coffee while reading a good book, walking to the farmers market, and preparing a home-cooked meal. As Mellish explains, *that’s *hygge. "We have access to so much, but our brains aren’t necessarily set up for that, at least not all the time," she says. “This is a chance to spend time doing things people have always enjoyed.”
What Does it Mean to Hygge?
If the concept of hygge sounds as appealing as it does intriguing, here’s some good news: It doesn’t require adding another item to your to-do list to learn how to do it. There’s no one way to hygge, but it might involve solitude or close friends, along with the analog activities of your choosing. Playing "Candy Crush" isn’t hygge, but lighting candles and curling up with a good book is a textbook definition. Watching the sunset? That’s hygge—assuming you’re not Instagramming the whole time. Playing board games or savoring warm drinks with friends and family by the fire is a very hygge way to pass the time. Watching TV or a movie *might *be hygge—but only if you’re fully invested in whatever you’re watching, and not, say scanning Facebook.
For all the many ways to hygge, most activities share a few common traits.
First, you should be mindful, thoughtful, and conscious of whatever you’re doing. Whether it’s playing cards, watching the snow fall, sipping tea, or relaxing by the fire, you should be fully invested in and focused on the activity. (A good rule of thumb: The fewer LCD screens involved, the better.)
Second, hygge demands a certain slowness. Trying to rush your way to relaxation is antithetical to the essence of hygge. Give yourself time and space to hygge as long as necessary.
Third, you should feel refreshed or recharged afterward. Whether you’re an extrovert or introvert, hygge is about finding simple, relaxing ways to connect with something (and, perhaps, someone) meaningful and relaxing.
How Do You Hygge Outside?
Hygge is most commonly associated with the indoors, but it’s far from limited to fireplaces and cozy chairs. In fact, Mellish says it’s a Danish tradition for families to spend an hour or two walking through nature on holidays like Christmas Day. And like most Scandinavians, Danes are famous for their active lifestyles, which means hygge can most certainly be another way to enjoy the great outdoors.
Mellish cites hiking solo or with close friends as prime examples of what it means to hygge. "It is shutting some things out by focusing on yourself or your group," she says.
If you’re hiking solo, take time to admire wildflowers growing next to the trail, breathe in the fresh outdoor scent wafting from rain-soaked trees, and admire the vistas or waterfalls along the way. If you’re with a group, talk about what you’re seeing and what you’re feeling.
In other words: Leave the Jambox at home. Whether your first instinct is to tote along a Bluetooth-enabled soundtrack or snap photos of iconic views, Mellish invites hikers and outdoor enthusiasts to disconnect while on the trail. "You have to turn off your machines," she says. “Hygge is not machines. Put your stuff away, and focus on each other.”
Written by Matt Wastradowski for RootsRated.