What is ”hygge”, and why is everyone talking about it?

What is ”hygge”, and why is everyone talking about it?

You can’t escape it. Everywhere you go these days, you’ll be confronted with it. Some people praise it to the high heavens, others are more skeptical. Nobody is sure how to pronounce it (“hooga”? “HOO-gah”? “hoo-guh”? “hue-gah”? [ˈhygə]?), and everyone agrees that it can’t be translated while simultaneously offering translations and explanations.

I’m talking about “hygge”, of course.

A simple Google search for the word gives over 15 million results. The hashtag #hygge has been used over 1.5 million times on Instagram. More than 20 books on the subject were published in 2016 alone. Hygge has not only invaded our homes and taken root in our kitchens, it’s apparently also the secret to surviving cold temperatures, and it may even cure your anxiety about the political future of your country or the world. Hygge is so great that even the outgoing Danish ambassador to Denmark will take it home with him (but no thanks on the licorice).

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Those still trying to understand the concept will find instructions, illustrated guides, and even shopping lists for the full-on hygge experience.

What is hygge? | The Copenhagen Tales
When you search “hygge” on Google images, this is what you’ll see

People are in fact convinced that hygge is the key to happiness and gleefully declare the “year of hygge”. It even made the shortlist for Oxford Dictionary’s “Word of the Year”.

So what is hygge, actually?

There’s no agreed, universal definition of “hygge”. One word that’s often used to translate it is “coziness”, but I would argue that hygge means much more than that.

Apparently, the word’s origin is Norwegian and old Nordic and means seeking refuge, protection, and shelter from the raging of the outside elements.

According to the book The Year of Living Danishly, hygge is the “complete absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming.” Another book, Hygge: A Celebration of Simple Pleasures, Living the Danish Way, states: “Hygge is very gentle. There is no discussion of politics or anything controversial that makes you feel uptight.” Hygge creates a safe spot for you to retreat to when things get too much and you need a break.

Most articles will tell you that you need candles, a cuddly blanket, and a warm beverage of your choice in order to create hygge. In fact, a quick Google image search reveals mostly Insta-perfect pictures of feet in woolen socks in front of a fireplace, or perfectly manicured hands holding a cup of coffee or tea over a knitted blanket.  Hygge is also about togetherness, spending time with family and friends, enjoying a good meal or a glass of wine (or gløgg).

But that’s not all. Hygge is ubiquitous, and especially in Denmark, it’s used for pretty much everything ranging from a rainy afternoon spent curled up on the couch with a good book, to a picnic in the park with friends, or even a stroll around the city. Basically, hygge is about the enjoyment of the simple things in life, those precious moments in which you simply forget to take out your camera and snap a picture (begging the question of how so many of those moments end up on Instagram…).

What is hygge? | The Copenhagen Tales
#hygge on Instagram

Sounds pretty great, huh? Well, as everything in life, hygge too has another side to its cozy coin. Some might call hygge an escape mechanism to help you forget (or suppress) your worries. Some have called it boring. There’s even a point to be made that hygge serves as a way of retreating into yourself and your kind, barricading against all things strange and scary (after all, no contentious topics shall be discussed so as not to break the hygge!).  One article goes so far as to tie hygge to certain aspects of xenophobia and even racism. It’s also often used to – in the best case – gently mock and – in the worst case – belittle the Danish way of life.

What do I think?

I like hygge. I think it’s – surprise – hyggeligt. But as with so many things in life, I think it’s best enjoyed in moderation. If everything is hyggelig, nothing is hyggelig – you know?

I’m certainly exasperated with the inflationary use of the concept for commercialization. People will slap the “hygge” label on anything in order to sell magazines, clothes, candles, blankets, and whatnot. Hygge is a lovely idea, but I wish people would just be a bit more chill about it (after all, that is what hygge is all about!). Luckily, the world seems ready to move on to the next Scandinavian concept: Swedish “lagom”.

What’s your take on hygge? Let me know in the comments below!

Want to know more?

Here are some books you might find interesting:

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6 thoughts on “What is ”hygge”, and why is everyone talking about it?”

  • My partner, newborn, and I are planning a trip to CPH in July. While researching Denmark, the term ‘hygge’ keeps popping up. In fact, while reading a The Danish Way of Parenting book, they bring it up as part of the P-A-R-E-N-T concept under the letter ‘T’ for Togetherness or Hygge. The more I learn about Danish culture and history, the more fascinating it seems compared to the American culture I was brought up in. I am hoping our 5 days spent there will be a good reflection of the Danish way of life!

    • Hi Merv, I’m not familiar with the PARENT concept, but togetherness is definitely a huge part of hygge! Hope you have a lovely trip to Copenhagen :)

  • Interesting post! I’ve heard of hygge – in fact, maybe I’m doing it right now, wearing a blanket and drinking tea? Haha. I also appreciated your perspective on the commercialization of it and that all is not always what it seems!

  • I’m Danish even though I live in Oregon, USA … Hygge is more a concept than a thing. I can’t explain it to where Americans really understand because it’s much, much more than cozying up … I think hygge is a state of happiness, contentment, safety and a few more things all rolled into one.

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