Getting to grips with the Danish concept of ‘Hygge’

Although I have no idea how they quantify it, the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland are in the top 10 Happiest Countries in the world, according to a 2018 Forbes survey. 

Well, all I can say is that we could feel the warmth the minute we landed in Copenhagen airport. And that’s not because the temperatures hit 30 degrees while were there. Upon arriving at Kastrup, we wandered off to purchase a Copenhagen Card (more about that in another post) and the sales guy couldn’t have been friendlier or more helpful. He enquired as to where we were staying and went as far as to tell us which side of the train to sit on so that we could see our hotel through the window of the train and thus walk in the right direction as we exited the station.

Perhaps all this happiness has something to do with a concept we came across called hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) which is a national passion for well-being, comfort and cosiness, and is not really translatable into English.

The author of “The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living”, Meik Wiking, who is also the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen,  describes Hygge as “the sensation you get when you’re cuddled up on a sofa, in cozy socks under a soft throw, during a storm. It’s that feeling when you’re sharing comfort food and easy conversation with loved ones at a candlelit table. It is the warmth of morning light shining just right on a crisp blue-sky day.” Don’t you just love that description and the way Danish folk have made it into a thing?

Hygge is a lifestyle trend and the word is used as a verb  i.e. ‘I’m going to hygge the hell out of today by having breakfast in bed and then reading a great book’; or as an adjective – ‘this coffee shop is pure hygge with its fur throws, hot cinnamon buns and oceans of candles.’

OK, sure, I thought. People that come from a part of the world that experience such hectic winters will undoubtedly envelope themselves in hygge-like warmth and comfort situations. However, the Danes do hygge in summer too! The summer sees hygge happening outdoors with picnics in the parks and long cycling trips to beautiful destinations, planting gorgeous flowers everywhere despite the short season, or sunbathing alongside the canal with friends.

But there seems to be more to hygge than physical comfort and good food. The Danes value their spare time and try to spend as much of it with family and friends. They work hard but seem to be able to avoid the chained to the desk, corporate treadmill that leads to our own depressing discussions about work-life balance. Hygge also seems to embrace minimalism and goes against the accumulation of ‘things’ and the trappings of wealth.

Everyone seems to have a bicycle. Probably all that cycling also releases feel-good hormones. The bikes that you see are old-fashioned looking and well used. The Danes just don’t seem to worry too much about state of the art, carbon-fibre structures unless they are serious competitive athletes. Well-dressed business men and ladies in elegant skirts and heels hop on their old bikes and trundle along to work looking completely relaxed.

Wearing schloompy yoga pants is definitely hygge. Eating sticky pastries is totally hygge, but so is embracing raw and fresh ingredients and eating simple, wholesome porridges – that is completely hygge too. (The Danes even have a restaurant chain called Grød, that serves only porridge. I kid you not.)

Spoiling yourself is hygge. This can be indulging in a candle-lit fragrant bath or hanging a favourite picture on the wall, according to the experts. Most importantly it’s about enjoying the moment, loving your home, smelling the roses and the coffee and not rushing madly onto the next thing.



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