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Hygge: Unlocking Denmark's Secret to Happiness

Hygge: Unlocking Denmark's Secret to Happiness
Hygge, an important part of the Danish world view, is loosely translated as cozy contentment.

Posted by Theresa Koch


In 2016, hygge took the world by storm. While the far-flung fervor over this Danish notion of coziness has died down since then, it’s poised for a major revival in 2020.

Hygge offers the comfortable, connected feelings we all desire during the darker, colder months of the year. Here’s why this Scandinavian concept might be more enticing than ever in 2020—and how you can explore it yourself.

What Is Hygge?

You might have heard it before, but here’s a refresher for anyone who isn’t familiar with hygge. It can be a bit difficult for English-speakers to grasp, as there isn’t a direct translation—the closest word we have is “cozy.”

Hygge, however, is a particular kind of coziness that makes you feel like all is right with the world. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a quality of coziness and contentment.” It’s also associated with a sense of friendliness and connection with others.

Thanks, in part, to these definitions, it’s easy to think of hygge as a lifestyle trend or aesthetic centered on comfort and coziness. However, it isn’t a trend—it’s a Danish cultural concept. And, like many such concepts, things sometimes get lost in translation.

The hygge hype started in 2016 in Western Europe (primarily England). Both there and in the U.S., the trend was initially driven by the release of several popular books, including the following:

In the U.K., it was The Book of Hygge that put this concept on the map. A year later in the U.S., though, it was The Little Book of Hygge that was a runaway success, introducing thousands of Americans to the concept.

Although the sudden worldwide popularity of hygge was regarded with interest, it was also criticized by some Scandinavian people for turning a cultural practice into a commodity. The idea that you could “buy” hygge in the form of thick socks, candles, and comfortable furniture, was offensive to some.

Brands, of course, couldn’t wait to capitalize and started labeling as many random products as possible as “hygge” to boost sales. There’s even a Hygge & Kisses lip gloss set.

While it’s true that certain items might foster a sense of hygge in this hectic world, it’s important to remember it’s really a state of mind. Of course, you can buy things to facilitate the experience—you can’t go wrong with some cozy socks, a soft throw, and a flickering candle.

However, hygge isn’t limited to spaces or stuff—it’s an experience, and you can have it anywhere. Hygge also isn’t limited to certain times of year. While it’s certainly fall- and winter-friendly, you can capture a cozy, relaxed, unplugged feeling even during the depths of summer.

This year has been so stressful, we could all likely use a healthy dose of hygge this fall. No matter where you are or what the weather’s like, let’s see how you can attempt to create this experience yourself.

How to Hygge

A few small changes can make a big difference in your level of hygge. Try any of the ideas below to cultivate this lovely feeling this fall—and beyond.

Put Your Phone Away

A phone constantly pinging you with messages and news updates certainly doesn’t foster a sense of hygge, nor does a laptop or tablet repeatedly tempting you to check your email. Electronics can be useful and connect us with others, but they also come with a lot of stressful baggage.

Unplugging for a bit will help you tap into the cozy, contented mindset you’re going for. Try to enjoy a full cup of coffee without checking your phone once. Or, put your laptop out of sight while you get into a good book.

If you’re using your phone or computer to get into a hygge state by loading a relaxing Spotify playlist, be sure to use the Do Not Disturb mode. Then, set your device to the side once you’ve fired up your playlist or virtual fireplace.

Turn Down the Lights

Candles are often associated with hygge. However, there’s no magic number of cozy scented candles you need to buy to achieve it. Any type of warm, dim lighting can help you create comfort.

Consider installing a dimmer switch, so you can reduce harsh overhead lighting to a soft glow when you’re relaxing. You can also buy some lamps for some low-lighting options. Warm-toned bulbs are ideal, but you also can’t go wrong with a strand of fairy lights to create some soft mood lighting.

Candles, of course, are also a nice touch, but don’t just buy them—actually light them! Hoarding candles and never enjoying them is the opposite of hygge. Watching the flickering flames will help you unwind.

Get Comfortable

Obviously, comfortable clothing works well with hygge. This can mean buying a nice new set of pajamas, some loungewear, or furry slippers—but it doesn’t have to.

Hygge can just as easily happen in those ugly old sweatpants you’ve had for a decade. It has far more to do with enjoying the moment than with being stylish and presentable.

Spend Time with Others

While we can’t gather with friends and family in the usual way right now, hygge is also an invitation to make the most of the time you have with the other people in your home.

You can enjoy hygge alone, but you’ll also find it in connection and shared experiences. Think board game nights with your roommates, cooking with your family, or simply reading quietly in the same room with your significant other.

Go Outside

It’s true that hygge can help you make the most of staying in. However, it’s not just an invitation to cozy up and hibernate. You can also cultivate the feeling outdoors.

Going outside helps many people relax and de-stress, which will bring you much closer to cozy contentment. A neighborhood walk or visit to the park—even in winter—is good for your body and refreshing for your mind.

Plus, curling up with a blanket and some hot tea will only feel that much more hygge if you’ve just come in from the cold.

Relax and Enjoy the Season

Hygge isn’t an aspirational lifestyle trend. Rather, it’s a specific, universal feeling, although its name is Danish. If you can relax and enjoy yourself in simple ways, you’ve pretty much got the hang of it.

If you’re thinking about buying a few extra items to help you cultivate more hygge this fall, go for it. Comfortable spaces and cozy clothes are definitely a great foundation. However, you don’t have to have an Instagram-ready bedroom or a brand-new couch with a cashmere throw to create it.

True hygge will feel effortless. You’ll find it in things like a good cup of coffee, a funny conversation over dinner at home, or when settling on the couch with a guilty-pleasure book after the day’s last Zoom call.

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