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5 Ways to Embrace Hygge, the Internet's Favorite Danish Word

November  8, 2016

For the last three out of four years, the UN World Happiness Report has declared Denmark the happiest nation on earth. (Switzerland edged out a win in 2015.) Their comprehensive welfare system means high taxes, but less stress and anxiety for those in need of unemployment benefits, health insurance, and time off. A healthy work-life balance is revered: Most people work a moderate 35 to 40 hours a week.

The Danes take their leisure so seriously that it extends to their language. Roughly pronounced hoo-guh, hygge is a word without direct English translation. Hygge can be facilitated, but not forced. One can experience hygge alone, though it is powerful with loved ones. Hygge is hard to define, but you know it when you feel it it.

“The closest word would have to be coziness, but that doesn’t really do it justice,” writes Pia Edberg in her book The Cozy Life. “[Hygge is] a holistic approach to deliberately creating intimacy, connection, and warmth with ourselves and those around us.”

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“I'm Canadian but grew up with all the subtleties of Hygge which I incorporate into my daily life with gratitude. Lise-Lotte Loomer”
— Lise-Lotte L.
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Marie Tourell Søderberg, another hygge practitioner and Denmark native, says, “In a nutshell, it is a Danish word for finding happiness in the little things in life… it’s like a compass, steering us towards small moments that money cannot buy you, finding magic in the ordinary.”

Hygge is contentment. Hygge is comfort. Hygge is living in the moment.

A very Danish dining room.

While "in the US and the UK we’d fought for more money at work," notes Helen Russell, author of The Year of Living Danishly (a book I highly recommend), “Scandinavians had fought for more time—for family leave, leisure and a decent work-life balance.” They fought for hygge.

Though it bears repeating that you cannot force hygge, it can certainly be coaxed along. Below are some ways to cultivate all the warm, fuzy feels through this holiday season, the Danish way.

1. Light candles

Danes care a great deal about their surroundings. Danish designers, such as Arne Jacobsen and Finn Juhl are these days household names. In addition to a rich design legacy, the country’s harsh weather plays a significant role in the Danish emphasis on home-life: Interior surroundings are treated as an extension of self and a calm refuge from winter temperatures hovering in the 30s.

The Kubus candleholder is a quintessentially Danish touch.

When in doubt as to how to introduce some hygge into your home, candles are always a good bet. Reports show that Danish residents each burn an average of 13 pounds of candles every year (the most of any country, by a landslide). Lighting as a whole is very important to Danes, who prefer to create hygge “zones” using soft pools of light. Warm-toned lighting from ambient sources, such as lamps, are much preferred to harsh overhead bulbs. (Famously eco-conscious, the Danes would endorse the choice to use an LED!)

2. Incorporate pillows and blankets

Adding soft blankets and plush pillows is another great way to easily increase your home’s cozy factor. There is no need to go for a strictly Scandinavian look—your space must represent you and your style to facilitate a hygge experience.

No matter your aesthetic, however, the space should be neat and tidy. As Helen Russell learned early on in her Danish journey, “cleanliness is next to Danishness.”

3. Focus on the table

Perhaps most important of alI, invest in a well-made dining table that can sit at least 6 to 8 people. For Danes, much of the good life happens with friends and family around the dining table.

In Denmark, opening one’s home to others is so frequent and natural that it’s not necessarily a big to-do. Of course, all the hygge elements are in place with candles lit and glasses full, but other than these assumed pre-requisites, Danes keep it simple. They know that fussing over food and stressing out about timing will deflate a sense of hygge like nothing else.

4. Go overboard on appetizers

If you’re trying to entertain like a Dane, set out some simple appetizers and treats and then sit down to enjoy your guests. As long as the schnapps is flowing, there won’t be any complaints. Danes also like to stay their welcome for hours on end, so games are a frequent after-dinner activity. Charades, anyone?

5. And fireside activities

As far as what to cook, Marie Tourell Søderberg recommends making snørbrod as a quintessential way to achieve hygge. You can think of it as a more savory version of roasting marshmallows for s’mores: Dough is wrapped around a stick and baked over the open flame, rotated for optimum browning, of course.

In her book Hygge: The Danish Art of Happiness, she writes, “enjoying snøbrod is a classic hygge moment and the making of it stimulates all our senses: smelling the bonfire and the chilly summer night, seeing the dancing flames, and feeling the warmth on your face.”


To use another word without direct English translation, hygge has hit the zeitgeist. In time for this year’s holiday season, at least nine books will be published dedicated to the subject.

This concept of taking time to relax at home seems to be ruminating around our nation’s collective-subconscious, ready to break out in full force at any moment. Maybe it’s the crazy election season. Maybe it’s our very American habit of equating busyness to importance. Maybe it’s all the “one days” we pile up in hopes of finally having time to read, or paint, or just putz around.

Whatever it is, clearly something about hygge is striking a chord with the masses, myself included. While reading about hygge, I couldn’t help but think of the lyrics to an old John Mayer song where he sings, “I think I’m going to stay home [and] have myself a home life.”

How do you hygge? Tell us how you're getting warm and cozy this season, in the comments.

10 Comments

Angie R. January 6, 2017
I would like to promote this company for nice bee wax candels.<br />http://www.beehivecandles.com/beeswax-candles/<br />Angie
 
Leslee P. November 27, 2016
Lovely article. BUT I must point out that one does not "putz" around the house. You "futz" around the house. "Putz" means something else entirely and when you find out the meaning you will see it has no place in this article!<br />Leslee Paul
 
karen November 19, 2016
Previously, we'd have dozens of candles. Now just a few because of particles release that are not so healthy. As Danes we MUST have the small pools of light. The LED tealight substitutes are so very sad from a hygge perspective . But the battery driven garlands are great (available at for instance Flying Tiger) and can be draped on picture frames, mirrors etc.
 
Wendy A. January 6, 2017
LEDs definitely don't have quite the same mood, BUT you can sub with soy or beeswax candles, which have much less (and maybe even different, compositionally) emissions. But I also find that strings of teeny fairy lights give the same cozy effect without the fire/emissions risk :)
 
karen November 19, 2016
Snobrød is the name. Literal translation is twistbread. <br />Snø is snow in Swedish (not Danish) and brod is what bees use for stinging
 
Author Comment
Janice B. November 16, 2016
Lise - that sounds so interesting! I haven't come across much on the subject of hygge + plant growing. That might have to make it on to my reading list!
 
Lise-Lotte L. November 16, 2016
This is a great article. I've just published a book called Greenhouse Hygge-the house of my growing dreams. It's available on Amazon. It's the story of how my Danish mom gave me her greenhouse when she was in hospice, how we moved it to my garden and made it my own. I'm Canadian but grew up with all the subtleties of Hygge which I incorporate into my daily life with gratitude. Lise-Lotte Loomer
 
sarah November 9, 2016
I live very near to Denmark (in the far north of Germany, which once was danish), so most of the rituals are well known here, too! Especially snørbrod/Stockbrot (bread on a stick) is very popular, and a great activity to do with kids. The weather here is, as we are surrounded by two seas, the north and the baltic, stormy and wet, but not necessary very cold (-20°C is the minimum most years. But the wind an rain makes it very uncomfortable outside.<br />So, in consequence, when the 'Knicks', mounds, overgrown with busheś and trees, which surround the fields to protect them from th wind, are cut low in the autumn, there are great fires made everywhere. People gather, everyone brings something to eat (and, of course snørbrod).<br />Sorry for the long text, but I get so excited, when I see something so much like home, and I wanted to share this.
 
Tonia J. November 16, 2016
I can feel the excitement as I read this. I live in the Sonoran Desert, and typically have to pretend it's winter soon, but I fantasize about warming up at fires and feeling the comfort compared to the cold outside. Thanks for the romantic image to warm my heart.
 
Casey M. November 8, 2016
I spent a year studying in Denmark and have tried to incorporate hygge into my daily life (but especially in the winter!) ever since. Candles are key!