What's all the hoo-ha about hygge?


Despite having longer, darker winters than the UK, and let’s be honest we all know someone who suffers at least a little from the winter blues, Denmark is consistently ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world.  So, put simply, how do they do that?

Well, it seems the answer lies at least in part in a concept the Danes call hygge, pronounced 'hoo-ga'. Having recently received a lot of interest worldwide, with a number of books published on the subject (you can even take courses in it) we thought we'd take a look at how we might learn to create some of this Danish mood-boosting magic for ourselves.

According to my Danish friend Per, the word 'hygge' doesn’t have a direct English language equivalent. Cosiness, comfort and, perhaps, togetherness, he says, are the closest English words, but that’s not the whole story. Hygge, I am told, is a state of mind.

Per explains that for Danes the essence of hygge is taking time to enjoy the small things in life. Whether it’s going for a run in the morning or meeting friends for cake and coffee, the trick is to appreciate and value the experience.  Don’t see the run as a chore, don't tell yourself off for having the cake, view it as a treat, the run as a pleasure and time spent with friends as special so enjoy and be thankful. Sounds almost Buddhist doesn’t it?

"But what about candles?" I ask.

Per laughs, “Nice lighting and a cosy environment play a part, but it’s about more than that. When family and friends come together to enjoy hygge, everybody leaves their personal agendas at the door.  If we share a meal, everyone helps out. We are all part of a team, enjoying each other’s company and enjoying shelter from the stresses and strains of everyday life and, because everyone knows that this is special time set aside for relaxing and being together, people cherish and respect that,” he laughs again, “but a few candles never do any harm."

Per's top five tips for creating hygge:

  1. Make the space work:  Denmark isn’t just dark and cold for a lot of the year, it’s also expensive, so people often spend time entertaining at home and they make the most of even the simplest of spaces.  Lamplight, a few candles and a good tidy and de-clutter if necessary, can all work wonders to create a cosy, comfortable atmosphere.

  2. Leave your armour and baggage at the door: The point of hygge is that it provides time to get away from the everyday pressures of normal life and that includes point-scoring, boasting, pretence, needing to be the centre of attention, this week’s controversial issue or last week’s argument. Hygge space should be a safe, non-confrontational space were you can be yourself and bond with friends and family.

  3. Enjoy things, but in moderation: Hygge's not about excess. If you want to enjoy a special treat, that’s fine, but take the time to really appreciate it and try not to overindulge.

  4. Make it a team occasion: If everybody works together to prepare food, serve and clear up, then everyone’s involved in creating something positive, no one's left out and no one ends up doing everything.

  5. Copenhagen wasn’t built in a day: Creating hygge is an art the Danes have perfected over centuries. Agree with friends, family or both that you’re going to give the concept a try, perhaps just for the duration of a meal or an evening together. This will make things seem more achievable and make it easier for everyone to try to be in and enjoy the moment.