We're sure you've come across the word in the past few months, but what in the world is hygge exactly? First let's start with how you say it.
Pronounced "hoo-ga," this Danish concept cannot be translated to one single word but encompasses a feeling of cozy contentment and well-being through enjoying the simple things in life. If you've ever enjoyed reading a book indoors on a rainy Sunday or a cup of hot cocoa on a snow day you've experienced hyggewithout even knowing it. Hygge is such an important part of being Danish that it is considered "a defining feature of our cultural identity and an integral part of the national DNA," according to Meik Wiking, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen. "In other words, what freedom is to Americans. . . hyggeis to Danes," Wiking says in his new book The Little Book Of Hygge, which comes out later this month in the U.S. This national obsession with all things cozy is credited as one of the reasons why Denmark is always at the top of the list of the world's happiest countries, despite their infamously miserable winters. Now the rest of the world is beginning to catch on to this wonderful way of life.
The basics. Similar to the German concept of gemütlichkeit and the Dutch idea of gezelligheid, the warm and cozy lifestyle that hygge promotes has been a key part of Danish culture since the early 1800s when the word first appeared in the written language (it's derived from a Norwegian word for "well-being"). While hygge—which is used as both a noun and adjective in Denmark—is more of a way of life for Danes, it caught on as a lifestyle trend in the UK in 2016 after several books about the topic were published. It became so popular in Britain that it was even included in the Collins Words of the Year for 2016—second only to Brexit. Now it's America's turn to go ga-ga for hygge. Everyone from The New York Times to The New Yorker has covered it and no fewer than eight books have been published in the last few months about the topic. It's trending on social media too. Pinterest predicted it will be one of the hottest home decor trends of 2017 after activity on the site about "hygge" increased 285 percent at the end of 2016. People have tagged over 1.5 million posts on Instagram with #hygge and have also taken to Twitter to discuss the finer points of what makes something hygge or not.
Gonna Hygge the sh*t out of 2day: tea, knitting, bacon, legos, boardgames, walking dog. Postmodern feminist rage & movie chitchat on pause.
Yes, sweatpants count as hygge. 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.
What other things are considered hygge? If you ask a Danish person, they're likely to tell you that candles are the most important part of creating a hyggeligatmosphere 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. Fireplaces, throw blankets, oversized sweaters and thick socks (really, anything knitted) also make things way more hygge.
What isn't hygge? Sorry, staring at your phone all day is the least hygge thing out there. TV is okay though—but try inviting some friends over to watch movies with you since togetherness is another key part of being hygge.
What about food? What you eat is also essential to creating those cozy vibes and it's all about homemade sweets, comfort food and hot drinks. 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 cup of hot cocoa, dig up your grandma's chicken pot pie recipe or spend a weekend afternoon baking your favorite chocolate cake.
Is hygge the next Marie Kondo? The trend seems to be going that way. 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, hygge provides a friendlier and more forgiving lifestyle. While hygge is all about keeping things simple (think Scandi-style interior design), it also encourages people to live a little and say yes to that extra slice of cake. And after the divisive and stress-filled year that was 2016, it's no mystery why Americans are going all in for hygge in 2017.
So hygge = hibernating indoors alone all winter long? No, not exactly. While staying indoors all day long drinking hot chocolate and reading your favorite book alone 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.
Can you make things hygge in the summer? Yes! While winter is the obvious time for all things hygge, Danes practice this concept year round. Some ideas forhyggelig summer activities include picnics in the park, backyard dinner parties, bonfires on the beach and outdoor movie nights.