*This article has been updated for accuracy in May, 2020 and is more relevant today than it was when we first posted it!

Is Hygge the reason Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the world?

Hygge is the Danish word for cozy and is a national pastime/obsession. It is pronounced HOO-gah, not dissimilar to the Marine Corps cheer HOO-rah! Denmark ranks at the top of the most recent survey conducted by the United Nations of the happiest countries in the world and many proponents of hygge think it is Denmark’s secret to happiness. It is the latest lifestyle craze – a sort of new feng shui. The word is derived from a 16th century Norwegian term meaning ‘to console’ or ‘to comfort’ and in the past year the concept has become known around the world.

What is Hygge?

It is an atmosphere that brings calmness, coziness and togetherness to its participants. It is the enjoyment of gentle, comforting things and people you are close to. Think heavy knit socks and chocolate. It does not involve strangers, as the Danes are shy. It is experienced with people you love and have known a long time. Picture being snowed in on a winter day with your family or a group of close friends, lighting a fire, lighting candles, putting a stew on the stove to simmer and making tea. Hygge is an inherent part of the Danish culture in the same way that freedom is to American culture. Winter is the most hygge time of year. The word can be used as a noun (hygge), adjective (hyggelig = hygge-like) or verb (did you hygge last night?)

How does ASE know it’s an upcoming lifestyle trend?

It caught on in Britain last year in a big way. Collins Dictionary named it one of the top 10 words of 2016 along with Brexit and Trumpism. The Oxford Dictionaries’ 2016 words of the year also included ‘hygge’ (along with ‘post-truth’ and ‘alt-right’). The Little Book of Hygge, written by Meik Wiking was a best seller in Britain and was released two weeks ago in the U.S.  It is flying off the shelves. $11.75.

More than 20 books about hygge were published in the U.S. last year with more to come. There are ‘how to hygge’ books, as well as ‘how to cook hygge’ books. Cake is very important to the concept as well as glogg, many candles everywhere and brown furniture.

There are several hygge-related retail websites, one which sells lots of soft furry things like blankets, fur hides and rugs, and many candles. There is the Great Northern Food Hall in Grand Central Station which sells lots of hyggelig foods and other Nordic fare. Finally, we knew it would be big when Architectural Digest named hygge one of the top décor trends for 2017!

More about Hygge:

It seems to be appealing now because it is easily accessible, perfect for the winter season, and is comforting in the current uncertain times. The importance of candles to the Danes cannot be understated. They have candles lit in their offices, stores and all over their homes. Studies have shown that each Dane burns around 13 pounds of candle wax a year. Meik Wiking who wrote The Little Book of Hygge is also the Founder and CEO of The Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen put together what he calls the Hygge Manifesto:

  • Atmosphere – candles, soft lighting
  • Presence – disconnect from the outside world
  • Pleasure – cake, chocolate, coffee and more
  • Equality – ‘we’, group feeling, sharing tasks
  • Gratitude – appreciating all the above pleasures
  • Harmony – no need to brag or try to stand out, we’re all friends
  • Comfort – relax, put your feet up
  • Truce – no drama, no politics
  • Togetherness – share memories
  • Shelter – these are your people and your place of peace

Games are also a part of hygge. Check out ASE’s article about games to play after dinner with friends or family.