As a Dane living in America I could not be any happier about the recent invasion of hygge to the United States and a lot of other countries! I love American culture and Americans. Especially their openness to new cultures and immigrants and their willingness to embrace what is new and different. But there is one thing I have been missing during the seven years of living here and that is a slower pace, more family time and the ability to just enjoy the moment – in other words: hygge! Many Americans are very busy, their kids are very busy/active and I believe a little more down time would do us all well. This has become of extra interest to me as I am raising my children in America and I want them to be as happy as the Danes.
My favorite example of the difference between Americans and Danes is how coffee is mostly “on the go” over here while in Denmark it is typically something you enjoy sitting down, preferably while talking with a friend. I had a Swedish friend in Denmark who loved the Danish standard phrase of: “Lets sit down and have a cup of coffee.” Danes take these breaks of appreciating simple pleasures in life and being in the moment with hygge and I truly believe it contributes to their happiness and creativity.
To me it is almost surreal that suddenly everyone is talking about something so fundamental to Danish culture as hygge. Yesterday I heard a Danish folk song played on American National Public Radio (NPR) and I had a hard time holding my tears back. Suddenly American friends come to ask me about hygge and Danish culture. I do not think I could have it any better as an immigrant, my culture is coming to me! But I am not only happy on my own behalf, also for Americans – that they get to enjoy this wonderful cultural phenomenon which is so hard to capture in words (both linguistically and culturally). To put it as simply as possible: hygge is about feeling good.
Let me give an example of what hygge can be. Last night we had some very good friends over for “julefrokost” ( or “Christmas lunch”). We decided to have this “julefrokost” in January because December was too busy. All we did was hang out and talk over different traditional Danish dishes and just have a good time. We all felt comfortable and relaxed as we have a lot in common and understand each other well and no uncomfortable topics such as politics or anything else that could divide us were brought up. We were just having a hyggelig time in a hyggelig atmosphere.
There is no recipe for hygge and very often hygge does not involve wool socks. It is pretty much anything that makes you feel comfortable and like being yourself. You can not really have hygge at a big party where you may feel pressured to make a good first impression, be funny etc. You feel hygge best around people who make you feel comfortable and among whom you can be yourself. Or you could simply just be alone and enjoy something like a book or a movie. I think hygge is very much about how we feel inside. Whatever makes you feel comfy, cozy and warm – be it a wool blanket, a feel-good movie, a great book, close friends, family or a cup of hot chocolate… or something completely different. As Meik Wiking mentioned on the radio program On Point, being in a cabin together with good friends around a fireplace safe from a raging storm outside is probably the ultimate hygge. Yes, there are several degrees of hygge! Some things are more hygge than others. Something as simple as a talk with someone can be hyggelig if it makes you feel good and comfortable. But I think many agree that the most hyggelige would be to be in a cabin in front of a fireplace with people you love while a storm is raging outside!
To have hygge you have to feel safe. If someone or something makes you feel uncomfortable that is NOT hygge. So leave out those pushy remarks of “When are you getting married?” or “We would love to have grandchildren soon”, or “Shouldn’t you start looking for a job?”… Such comments can transform a hyggelig atmosphere into something where at least one person just wants to leave ASAP. Hygge is something you want to enjoy for as long as you can.
A big part of Danish hygge is how much we use the word. Like the American standard phrase is “How are you?” The Danish is: “Hyg dig!” (“Have hygge!”). I even had a friend who instead of saying goodbye just said “Hygge!” as if he demanded you to go and have hygge.
Hygge is used about almost everything that makes you feel comfortable. My Danish- American husband recalls how his Danish relatives would use the word “hyggeligt” about pretty much anything. As if the Danes want everything to be hygge. It is also a great compliment to tell someone that you had a hyggelig time with them – hygge seems to be the ultimate goal for social gatherings in Denmark. This brings me to the point that a great part of Danish hygge is the importance that Danes put into the concept. It is so important to us that we use the word all the time! While most other nationalites probably already know a good bit about what hygge is without calling it hygge and do it every now and then, the greatest difference is in how much we value hygge in Denmark and how we prioritize this special time for feeling good and having a hyggelig time. This is very likely a big part of the reason why Danes are consistently rated the most happy people in the world – that we take these hygge breaks from our busy and stressful everyday lives to recover mentally and emotionally. Just looking at my own children I can see how much hygge means to their emotional well being. They become emotionally healthier, more balanced and resilient when we live a life where hygge is prioitized.
In this blog I share my pursuit of creating Danish hygge and happiness for my family and hopefully also yours. Often a culture becomes more understandable when you move away from it. I have found that you do not have to be in Denmark or from Denmark to be able to have hygge and I certainly believe that everyone who wants can learn how to hygge.