Hygge: What Does it Mean to Live a Hygge Lifestyle?
It’s about presence and awareness.
In linguistics, mimetic words are similar to onomatopoeia, which means “the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named.” These would include words such as bang, crash, or sizzle.
However, with Hygge, the sound of the word itself evokes similar ideas or feelings to the words’ meaning. One of those words is cozy. Doesn’t cozy sound cozy?
The Danish and Norwegian word hygge is one of those words. It sounds similar to hug (it’s pronounced “hue-gah”), and hugs are just about as cozy as things can be, and, aptly, hygge is the holy grail of coziness in Scandinavian culture. Its essence is embracing coziness — what’s not to like about that?
One of the most beautiful examples of shared knowledge across the globe is finding inspirational aspects of other cultures. In this article, we’ll explore the origins and ethos behind this Danish concept, and provide tips on how to invite more hygge into your life. So, ready for the coziest self-care practice? Read on.
What is hygge?
You can learn a lot about a culture from its language. We use language to communicate experiences, share ideas, and make sense of reality.
Language experts have long debated the role of language in perception — some studies demonstrate that people don’t see colors unless there’s a word for it. And many languages contain words that are seen as untranslatable; their meaning isn’t adequately conveyed in a different tongue.
When words and their associated meanings become part of our vocabulary, they become part of our meaning-making system. Although you can’t take the culture out of its historical roots, the word can become a symbol to see life in a different way.
Hygge is a shining example of this. In a world that is always overworking, moving at full speed, constantly checking phone notifications and sending just one more email, an invitation to slow down is much needed.
This Danish concept means more than cozyness
However, hygge means much more than coziness, and you could argue that unless initiated in the culture itself, you’d never fully understand it, although it’s an inclusive tradition. While it originated in Norwegian, the official Danish travel website refers to Danish hygge as part of the “Danish soul,” and it’s a significant, albeit recent, part of Danish life and culture. In their words:
“Hygge means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people. The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Cozying up with a loved one for a movie – that’s hygge, too. And there’s nothing more hygge than sitting around with friends and family, discussing the big and small things in life. Perhaps hygge explains why the Danes are some of the happiest people in the world.”
So while there is no English word that we use in everyday life that is a perfect match, the term “coziness” appears to be the closest word we have to hygge. It captures a feeling, one that can’t quite be articulated, one of warmth, contentment, ease, with those who are most important. Imagine drinking warm Scandinavian mulled wine by the fireplace on vacation, or eating freshly baked pastries (assume you are in your pajamas on a winter’s morning at your parents’ house). So hygge, right?
One of the best Danish secrets (and a fundamental part of the hygge culture) is deliberately taking time away from the daily grind to be fully present. These Scandinavian countries know how to live, and the concept of hygge is proof that they can teach us a thing or two.
The history of hygge
It turns out the link between hygge and hug isn’t a coincidence — there’s speculation that the etymology of hygge is linked to the 1560s word hugge, which means “to embrace.” The Danish word itself means “to give courage, comfort, joy” and the Old Norse that it derives from, hyggja, means “to think.” Interestingly, this evolved to hug, a way of describing the inner-life, or soul, in Scandinavian culture.
Hygge originated in Danish culture around the early 1800s, inspired by the landscape of Scandinavia.
Although hygge is practiced during the summer months, in the form of picnics or time spent outside with friends, it’s mostly practiced during the long, dark winter months. At the peak of winter, Denmark has up to 17 hours of darkness, with average temperatures around zero degrees. It’s no wonder, then, that the Happiness Research Institute is located in Copenhagen, Denmark. With that kind of weather and darkness, they need to study up on happiness as much as they can!
The Danish word crosses the Atlantic
In recent times, hygge has taken off as a cultural sensation in America, the UK, and the world more widely. In 2017, the word itself was added to the Oxford Dictionary.
The integration of hygge around the world was marked by a trending hashtag, #Hygge, around the same year. As well as the release of popular books including Signe Johansen’s How to Hygge, Michael Joseph’s Hygge: The Danish Art of Happiness, and The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Well, by Louisa Thomsen Brits.
Hygge rose to popularity around the time of Brexit in the UK, and Donald Trump’s presidency in the U.S. With the rise of separation and apparent chaos in the world, the allure of taking time away from the noise, focusing on coziness, had added appeal.
As Claus Andersen, an assistant professor of Scandinavian studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told NPR: “There was a financial downturn, and the motto kind of became, ‘what has been lost outwardly should be gained inwardly.’”
5 ways to introduce hygge into your life
Clearly, the Danes are getting something right — the country regularly ranks near the top in the Happiness Research Institute’s global listings. And, as countries across the world are discovering, hygge is a central theme that nourishes the soul and sparks a little warmth and wellbeing during times of need. The below 5 steps will provide guidance on how to sprinkle a little hygge into your lifestyle.
1. Find out what feels hygge for you
Because hygge captures a subjective feeling, its practice will look different for different people. Perhaps your idea of coziness is a candlelit dinner with your partner, or Sunday brunch with a large group of friends, or a walk in the countryside with family.
The most important thing is connecting to the things that give you a sense of warmth and radiance — a sense of “Hyggeligt” from the inside.
2. Create a sanctuary
Coziness begins with your environment. A big part of hygge culture is lighting candles and letting a dim, warm glow fill the room to add to the atmosphere. Consider ways in which you can create a mini-sanctuary away from the rest of the world. Because hygge is about paying attention to truly connecting to others, creating a sanctuary also means turning off your digital devices and becoming fully present for the time spent.
3. Invite friends over for a leisurely, quiet evening
Maybe you’ll decide to bake bread, make cookies, or enjoy coffee and cake. Part of hygge is having a wholesome shared task, and indulging in comfort food and sugary snacks is part of the fun. The focus is intimacy, so consider how you can create this amongst your group of friends — you might begin with meditation or simple conversation. Oh, and a warm fireplace is an added bonus.
4. Find ways to hygge alone
Although the social element of hygge is a big part of Danish culture, that doesn’t mean it only has to be reserved for times spent with others. It’s possible to experience hygge alone, whether it’s cozying up on the sofa with a hot chocolate and a book, or deciding to have breakfast in bed on a winter’s morning. In this sense, hygge can be a nice addition to any self-care routine. Especially the ability to slow down, rest, and embrace that time, rather than feel guilty for it.
5. Don’t force the feeling of hygge
According to Hygge House, “hygge is just about being aware of a good moment. Hygge is simple, it’s just the awareness of it that can seem hard to an outsider.” I’m not an expert on hygge, but I get the sense a large quality of hygge comes down to intuition. It’s based on a feeling that is difficult to describe.
Like all things in life, there’s a paradox when it comes to trying to create or cultivate a certain state — it can’t be forced. What seems clear is that the Danish people are skilled at setting the right environment for hygge to flourish. So, instead of trying to force a feeling of hygge, set the stage for feelings of coziness, and let go. It’s the Danish way.
Before you know it, even in the coldest or darkest of months, the feeling of hygge will become a beacon of light. And if that’s not a metaphor for a hug from the universe, I don’t know what is.
Read more about the concept of wellness here.