This is Hygge’s time. It’s just a feeling in the air. That and about 20 new books on the subject—from spiritual tomes, to organizational guides, to cookbooks—plus dozens of blogs, YouTube channels and TV show appearances, some witty (Younger), others odd (Vice and hygge-not a natural mix for us).
All this about one quaint, home-spun, Danish notion of happiness-through-coziness. Oh, and all this in the past 18 months.
Which means you’ve probably heard of the Hygge by now, unless you've been living under a rock or relaxing at a spa retreat in the forests of Jutland. In which case, you're probably 200% Hygge already and really don't need to read this. (Just kidding.)
But for those comfortless souls who aren't up on Hygge, or who want to learn more, sit down, relax, and grab a warm cardamom bun (and one for us too, please) while we conduct our concise yet complete tour of all things Hygge.
First off, it’s pronounced ”hoo-gah,” like hoopla, though some insist on “hue-gah.” We adopt a hyggeligt attitude on the whole subject and say life is too short to quibble.
Hygge comes from a Norwegian word that first appeared in print in Denmark in the 18th century. It doesn’t translate exactly into English, but “well-being” or “coziness” come closest, with some adding “the absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming,” which says a lot about the Scandinavian mindset that birthed Hygge and why it probably evolved in first place.
“We do not pick a seat close to strangers if other seats are available. We do not talk to strangers in the trains,” explains a character in Danish author Steen Langstrup’s short story, “Metro.” If that seems contradictory–cozy but standoffish–it’s not. Danes stick close to home and prefer “to emphasize intimacy and the unity of their inner circles,” notes author Louisa Thomasen Brits in her offering to the Hygge canon, Book of Hygge. Which is probably why there is no such thing as a Hygge house party.
Not that the Hygge aesthetic is about denial. Hygge has an element of indulging oneself, of treating oneself, but it’s a kinder and gentler version and more modest. It's not about spending huge amounts or showing off. The rat race and Hygge are not compatible: “Multi-tasking isn’t very Hygge,” notes Charlotte Abrahams, author of Hygge: A Celebration of Simple Pleasures, Living the Danish Way.
Rather, Hygge is like mindfulness with more of a focus on sensual pleasures: stopping to smell the roses, cherishing the feel of a cashmere throw on a cold winter’s night, an intimate dinner with friends. Call it unmindfulness, enjoying rather than overthinking. Hygge is basically all the small, delightful things you ever wanted to be doing in your free time rolled up in one neat philosophy, or rather wrapped in a down duvet, wearing chenille booties and sitting before a crackling fire.
In fact, you are probably experiencing a Hygge moment when you do anything involving a fire, not on fire, but by a fire, not a raging one either, a low, smoldering fire similar to . . . candlelight.
"Any activity done by candlelight or in the vicinity of candlelight is Hygge, period." Signed, Keeper of the Hygge.
According to Meik Wiking, author of the best-selling title of the bunch, The Little Book of Hygge, many Danes actually have candles strewn around their offices, as well as plants, to keep the Hygge vibe alive at work. Another of his suggestions is woolen socks, perfect for combating office AC tyranny.
Wiking also identifies chocolate as being very Hygge. (In addition to being an author, he is the CEO of The Happiness Research Institute, so we may have to listen to him about the chocolate.)
Eating and drinking are huge in Hygge. Hushed conversation with good food, great wine and excellent company is classic Hygge. But stopping to appreciate just what a special time you are having, making a toast that compliments the host on a very “hyggeligt” evening as the rest of the company murmur and clink in agreement, that's Extreme Hygge.
Hygge is baking with family or friends. Especially cakes. Hygge never met a cake it didn’t like.
Scented soaps, aromatherapy lotions, bubble baths. Hygge, hygge and hygge.
Hygge is when you pick up a fragrant bouquet of flowers at the farmer’s market and place them on your dining table in a charming vase you found at the Sunday flea. You stare at the flowers. You breathe in their aroma deeply. You feel the peaceful glow of Hygge and smile. Your cat thinks you are crazy.
You know what else is totally Hygge? Rain on the windowpane; linen napkins in antique napkin rings your grandmother gave you; writing poetry in a deerskin notebook. Cats are actually Hygge, but that's cheating: Everything soft is Hygge.
OK, but might this be a passing trend, the mere flame of fadhood, destined to flicker out faster than a scented candle? What is the evidence of Hygge’s staying power?
For one thing, the Hygge way has been the ruling ethos of an entire nation's downtime since before the forming of the fjords. And not just any deliriously happy Scandinavian country with free childcare, Denmark, the one often judged happiest of all. Mere coincidence?
Charlotte Higgins took aim at the Hygge trend in her Guardian piece entitled “The Hygge Conspiracy.” But even she had to conclude that it was “hard to deny that just at the moment, the most natural thing in the world is to want to huddle around the fire and wish the outside away.” Incidentally, the article was published last fall and, oh yeah, Hygge is still here.
Hygge even melted the icy heart of self-proclaimed “churlish” New York Times writer Judith Newman in her article with the nice, capitulatory title: “Hygge Is Where the Heart Is.”
And would Hygge have made it into the Oxford English Dictionary--becoming an official member of the English language this year--if it was a just cozy, floozy fly-by-night?
Speaking of England, Hygge is massively popular in Britain, which makes perfect sense when you consider: Beatrix Potter and tea cozies.
But while the Brits have had their piping pot of Hygge tea on the table for a while, it's taking a bit longer for it to come to a boil stateside. We Americans are like (well, we do say like a lot) dipping our toe into Hygge's sauna hot tub, wondering if we can go all in. The US tends to be more skeptical about lifestyle suggestions from other shores, especially England. Cue the Boston Tea Party tape!
Nevertheless, we have made our way to the edge of the waters and are slowly getting ready to take the plunge.
It makes sense that we should. It’s not as if any of us couldn’t use more pleasure or more happiness, in the current climate especially. Embracing the creature comforts of Hygge sounds awfully good right about now.