Hard to explain and possibly even harder to pronounce, the Danish word “hygge” (pronounced “hoo-gah” or “hue-gah” depending on who you ask) has exploded in popularity around the world. It translates roughly to “coziness,” but it means so much more than that. So what is hygge, really?
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What does Hygge Mean?
In essence, hygge means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people. The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Cozying up with a loved one for a movie – that’s hygge, too. And there’s nothing more hygge than sitting around with friends and family, discussing the big and small things in life. Perhaps hygge explains why the Danes are some of the happiest people in the world.
The Origins of Danish Hygge
Hygge didn’t originate in the Danish language but in old Norwegian, where it meant something like “well-being.” It first appeared in Danish writing around the end of the 18th Century and the Danes have embraced it ever since. One good thing about hygge is that you can apply it anywhere, you don’t have to travel to Denmark, though if you have the opportunity, I wouldn’t miss it.
Hygge in Denmark
The high season of hygge is Christmas. Danes lead a secular lifestyle but when it comes to religious holidays, they pull out the stops. Danish winters are known to be long and dark, and so the Danes fight the darkness with their best weapon: hygge, and the millions of candles that go with it. If you have ever been to Tivoli Gardens or walked the streets of Copenhagen during the festive season, you have an idea of what Danes can do with lighting, mulled wine (known as gløgg for the locals), blankets, and oversize scarves. If you haven’t maybe it’s time you try.
But, hygge can happen all year. If you plan on visiting Denmark during the summer months don’t despair. Hygge is something that happens all year round. Picnics in the park, barbeques with friends, outdoor concerts, street festivals and bike rides can all be very hygge, especially when done the Danish way. If you’re unsure where and how to begin your hygge adventure, the ultimate hygge and happiness tour can get you started. It will undoubtedly show you how to find your own happy hygge place. The great thing is that there’s no single way to hygge.
Hygge in your Life
For example, do sweatpants count as hygge? Yes. There’s even a word in Danish for them! Hyggebukser are that pair of pants you’d never be caught dead wearing in public, but practically live in when you’re at home on the weekends binging on Netflix.
In addition to describing things as hyggelig (hygge-like), Danes are also obsessed with adding hygge to other words to describe things. For example, a hyggekrog is essentially a nook where you can get cozy—imagine a window seat where you can wrap yourself up in a blanket and watch the world go by, or your favorite armchair where you do all of your reading.
The most important thing to remember is that hygge is a feeling. It’s that content, care-free feeling where you know you have nowhere else to be and you feel whole. While the Danes say there are things that are definitely and definitely not hygge, the important thing is what creates that feeling for you. So follow the guidelines below but listen to your own likes and dislikes in order to achieve your perfect hygge.
Here’s what else is considered hygge:
- Candles. If you ask a Danish person, they’re likely to tell you that candles are the most important part of creating a hyggelig atmosphere at home. Danes burn a whopping 13 pounds of candle wax a year per capita according to Wiking—more than any other country in the world. So turn off that unflattering overhead lamp and light some candles. I love these library-scented candles on Etsy.
- Fireplaces. What could be cozier than curling up by the fire for a warm night in? Bonus points if your mantel is decorated for winter.
- Throw blankets. Whether a chunky knit, weighted blanket, or heated throw, having something soft to wrap around yourself is a must. As are oversized sweaters and thick socks (really, anything knitted), which also make things way more hygge. Nice cozy thick socks are essential for me. These ones from Amazon are great.
- Homemade sweets, comfort food, and hot drinks. What you eat is also essential to creating those cozy vibes. While restaurants can certainly have a hygge atmosphere (think candles on the table and a fireplace in the back), spending tons of money on an expensive meal isn’t the point. It’s more about comfort and familiarity. In Denmark that might mean pastries, meatballs, and copious amounts of coffee, but in America you might want to pour yourself a warm drink, dig up your grandma’s chicken pot pie recipe, or spend a weekend afternoon baking your favorite chocolate cake.
While winter is the obvious time for all things hygge, Danes practice this concept year round. Some ideas for hyggelig summer activities include picnics in the park, backyard dinner parties, bonfires on the beach, and outdoor movie nights.
Hygge In Travel
If you’ve ever spent a long layover in a crowded airport, had to walk to your hotel in the pouring rain, or found out your AirBNB wasn’t living up to the listing photos, you’re probably thinking travel is the furthest thing from hygge you could possibly get. And in those situations, you would be right. But, in my opinion, because travel can be so stressful, that is exactly the time when you need hygge most. Here are a few ways you can add hygge to your travels.
- Slow down and take it easy. Traveling slowly allows you to form a stronger connection with the places you visit. Wherever you are, don’t forget to pause and take time to marvel over the beauty of the landscape, or simply enjoy a coffee. The Swedish concept of fika refers to a coffee break as a social experience to be cherished and makes you realize drinking your way to hygge can be both simple and delicious.
This might just mean scaling back your trip or adding in days of nothing but wandering around. Some of my favorite travel memories were from the days I had nothing planned but spent it looking into local shops or small cafes and giving myself time to reflect on the trip before it passes me by and I’m back home again. Rushing around is not hygge.
- Be Present. The main idea behind hygge is centered on making an effort to see the everyday as a special celebration. That rule applies to travel, too. Try focusing more on mindful experiences: pay attention to the atmosphere of the cafes you visit; don’t just eat your food, but really taste it; observe the locals as you pass them by through the city, and absorb every detail that catches your attention.
Just like those do-nothing days, taking a moment to savor what you’re doing super important but usually overlooked. Don’t just look at that amazing monument through your camera and forget to really look and realize where you are, how amazing that is, and feel present in that moment. Journaling is a great way to reflect and be present.
- Reconnect with Nature. Connecting with nature is a crucial element of hygge. Whether you’re treading your favorite bike trail, on a morning hike, roaming botanic gardens, or simmering down in a hot tub overlooking the mountains, remember to take a breath and appreciate the moment.
In Japan, there’s no shortage of beautiful mountain hikes or even serene parks smack in the middle of a city. Check out Mt Takao for an easy mountain hike, Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo to get back to nature without venturing too far from your hotel, or if you’re up for it, hike Fuji in the summer for a bucket-list trek before heading back to your accommodation for a nice hot soak and warm drink.
- Socialize. Hygge encourages togetherness in travel, be it intimately with friends and family, or through making new connections with locals. But you don’t have to change your whole personality to suddenly be more social—you can account for the togetherness of hygge in your travels by creating memories that you can revive at a later date, by sharing with others or reminiscing on a cozy evening by the fireplace.
- Bring your comforts. Feeling comfortable while you travel can only make the journey better, so choose comfortable clothes and your favorite means of transportation whenever possible. Prepare your favorite snacks, put your headphones on, and watch the world as you move through it.
I never travel without a good pair of thick socks, some of my favorite teas, and a small bottle of perfume or other scent spray. These are all small and can be tucked in even the smallest bags and make me feel calm and more at home no matter where I am. If I have a little more room in my bag I like to bring a real book because reading on screens is not hygge.
- Indulge in some pampering. Who knew massages, facials, and a trip to the sauna could be so hygge? Scandinavian culture has perfected the spa concept, and it’s one of the pillars of hygge. If you can, splurge on a spa treatment at your hotel or one nearby, some offer services for non-guests as well. Or, if that’s out of the budget or not accessible, there are ways to stay hygge-conscious. Just pack your bath salts, electric candles, and a portable speaker to connect to your favorite jazz or piano music, and relax in your hotel bathroom. One of the first things I look at in a hotel or Airbnb is the bathtub. The great thing about Japan is most hotels have a large, deep bathtub great for soaking after a long day of walking, and almost every Japanese Airbnb we’ve stayed in has had a large tub that makes me insanely jealous I don’t have one in my house.
Japan’s onsen are a great way to get in that pampering for a relatively inexpensive price.
Try Beppu Onsen, one of the top-rated Onsens in Japan.
What Isn’t Hygge?
Staring at your phone all day. Sorry, this is the least hygge thing out there. TV is okay—although try inviting some friends over to watch movies with you (hello, Hallmark Christmas films!), as togetherness is another key part of being hygge.
Hibernating indoors alone all winter. Again, while staying inside enjoying hot chocolate and a book is certainly hygge, getting outside to go for a long walk (yes, even in the winter) and spending time with friends and family is also a crucial part of the idea.
- Strict rules. While Marie Kondo’s 2014 bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up inspired people to declutter their homes and only keep things that “sparked joy” in their life might seem hygge from the first look, this style is a little too strict for hygge which provides a friendlier and more forgiving lifestyle.
Hygge is all about keeping things simple (think Scandi-style interior design), but it also encourages people to live a little and say yes to that extra slice of cake, or keeping more books and candles than Marie Kondo would generally allow.
- Purchasing products just to be on-trend. At its heart, hygge is more about creating a certain atmosphere than things, so buying lots of expensive stuff is the opposite of hygge. But people are already starting to wonder if the UK and American versions of hygge are just an excuse for companies to sell people things (see The Guardian’s “The Hygge Conspiracy“). So, while I’ll definitely recommend some hyggelig products to help get you started, by no means are they necessary. You most likely have what you need already in your home and maybe just need to tweak your attitude or surroundings to give you that cozy feeling you’re craving.
So, how do you hygge without buying into the hype? If you want to read more about the idea, feel free to pick up any of the new books about it. But if you want to be truly hygge, just remember to appreciate the simple things that bring joy to your life.
Books on Hygge:
With how much hygge has exploded in recent years there is no doubt hundreds of books about it. But some of my favorites are:
The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking
Hygge: The Danish Art of Happiness by Michael Joseph
Hygge: A Celebration of Simple Pleasures, Living the Danish Way by Charlotte Abrahams
Hygge: Unlock The Danish Art of Coziness and Happiness by Barbara Hayden