Being ‘Hygge’

Posted on November 11, 2016 by Eleanor McKenzie
Homemade Danish pastry with vanilla pudding and plum jam

At first read I thought that ‘hygge’ (pronounced ‘hue-ugh’) was going to be an acronym for something, like ‘Nimby’ or ‘Fomo’. But, as it turns out it is a real word – a Danish one. To Danes it means a kind of cosiness that you feel in a comfortable environment, but it also translates as ‘happy’ and ‘being hygge’ is now a new wellness trend.

One of the reasons for this trend is the recently published a report by the Happiness Research Institute explaining why Denmark frequently ranks as the happiest country in the world. It is an interesting study and the reasons for Danish happiness are essentially these: they have high levels of trust in each other, their welfare state provides them with a feeling of security, it is a prosperous country with well-enshrined democratic and civil rights, socially they feel bonded and they have an excellent work-life balance compared to many other countries. And they have the whole idea of ‘hygge’.

For those of us who live in northerly climes, where the winter days feel more dark than light, the characteristics of the hygge trend can provide useful ways to keep us cheery until the days grow longer. According to Louisa Thomsen Brits in her “The Book of Hygge” the term covers “a feeling of belonging and warmth, a moment of comfort and contentment.” It sounds as though we could all do with a bit of that, so, what are the steps to ‘hyggeness’?

Meik Wiking, the author of “The Little Book of Hygge,” one of the many books about the topic flooding the UK market says: “Danes are aware of the decoupling between wealth and wellbeing. After our basic needs are met, more money doesn’t lead to more happiness and, instead, Danes are good at focusing on what brings them a better quality of life.” And they use hygge to achieve that.

It may come as no surprise to you that fire and light play a major role when Danes want to feel hygge considering where they live. In Louisa Thomsen Brits’ book, lighting a candle at the breakfast table and lighting fires every day are two traditional ways of achieving this particular happiness. And, as we delve deeper into the characteristics of hygge, we find that it is filled with eating comfort food and drinking hot things as well as sitting around a fire.

History of hygge

The historical origins of hygge are fascinating. When Denmark’s imperialist ambitions were thwarted in the 19th century, philosopher NFS Grundtvig put a positive spin on the setback by pointing out that “the nation’s outward grandeur was less important that the wellbeing of its people.” That wellbeing focused on “Norse lore, folk singing, simplicity and cheerfulness.”

Now, I’m taken back to the days of “Noggin the Nog” and Oliver Postgate’s eerily bewitching voice telling us about the days of the Norse men singing around a campfire. I had a feeling singing would come into it somewhere, not that I have anything against this activity, and community singing is good for the soul, so maybe joining a choir this winter is a step towards more happiness.

And here are some more suggestions:

  • Buy candles – exchanging electric light for candlelight on occasion does bring a feeling of warmth and, of course, romance to a room. From tea lights to candelabras and fashionable scented candles, light them more often and feel that happiness
  • Bake more – get back into more home baking and invite friends round for tea and a Victoria sponge that has just cooled to perfection. What about a Bakewell tart or some homemade scones? These are all guaranteed to warm the cockles of your heart and those of family and friends
  • Cycle – the Danes are devoted cyclists and even their politicians cycle to parliament, or at least they did in the TV drama “Borgen”. The exercise releases dopamine, the happy hormone, and it’s also good for your general health
  • Leave work on time – the Danes value family time very highly and you won’t find many of them staying on late at work. The typical Danish working day is 8am-4pm, and they will leave on time and go home
  • Eat more porridge – porridge and a cup of tea are essential ingredients of the hygge trend. The Danes don’t just eat it for breakfast, it’s a dinner dish there as well and they love it with apples and cinnamon.

This is a wellness trend that is pretty easy to follow and not that different to many aspects of British culture. Personally, I’m very fond of porridge and stopping work on time, so I’m halfway to hyggeness already. Hope you’re there too!

Are you embracing Hygge?

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.