By Lorie Swaydan, Huntsman World Senior Games

Denmark consistently ranks as one of the happiest places on earth. How is this possible?  The weather isn’t great, it’s dark and cold much of the year, and according to researcher Malene Rydahl there are more pigs than people living in Denmark. Perhaps Danes are just naturally happy? Research suggests that there is a genetic component to being happy, but according to studies done at the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark, happiness is more about a perspective that comes from lifestyle choices which lead to a more consistent sense of well-being. Part of that perspective is learning to appreciate and celebrate simple things like family gatherings, cozy get togethers, good food and an uncluttered existence. It also incorporates the idea of being part of a team where everyone is valued and supported. The Danish word that describes this way of life is hygge (pronounced hoo gah). 

Meik Wiking CEO of the Happiness Research Institute says that the idea of hygge is integral to Danish identity. “What freedom is to Americans...hygge is to Danes.”  The word comes from the Norwegian word for well-being. It is also related to the German word gemütlichkeit, which means warmth, friendliness and good cheer and the Dutch gezelligheid, which connotes coziness, fun and togetherness. Others would say that hygge includes the concepts of trust, purpose and being in the present. Hygge “...requires a certain slowness, and the ability to not just be present -- but recognize and enjoy the present.” ( 2020)

It’s sometimes easier to define hygge through examples. Christmas is very hygge, especially the traditions like gathering together with family and friends, sharing good meals, giving gifts --though not expensive ones. It’s about community, not consumerism. Candlelight is hygge. Danes burn more candles than any other country - about 13 lbs per person each year. And the fact that Christmas is celebrated in the middle of winter, the darkest part of the year would be a part of hygge. In some sense it is a hopeful defiance of darkness. A hygge setting is full of light, warmth, coziness, and a feeling of safety even when a storm rages outside.

Summer activities can be hygge as well. Taking a nature walk, going on a picnic or having a get together with friends, playing games or just talking. These are hygge. The setting should be relaxed - no strict rules or fancy clothes. The food should be good - the longer it takes to cook, the better. And there should always be cake! A little indulgence and pampering is part of the hygge lifestyle.

Hygge has been promoted and made popular from the research in Denmark, but they admit it’s not a purely Danish concept. It can be found everywhere, in many cultures. What’s more the hygge lifestyle can be nurtured and encouraged by choosing to incorporate the concepts of simplicity, hospitality and integrity into our daily lives. 

Here are some ways to make your life more hygge:

  • Slow down and enjoy a cup of coffee, tea or cocoa. Add a slice of cake.
  • Turn off your screens and spend time with nature and family.
  • Act with integrity. Do what you say you will do. Hygge means developing trust and it begins with each individual.
  • Declutter and simplify.
  • Notice and appreciate simple things - nature, music, laughter.
  • Light a candle or two.
  • Create a cozy nook where you can read, listen to music or just relax. It’s especially hygge if there is warm sunlight, a fireplace or candles.
  • Invite friends over. Have everyone help prepare a meal. Put candles on the table, and be sure to have dessert.
  • Practice being present.
  • Enjoy the company of others and be good to yourself.

Rydahl, Malene. Planting Seeds of Happiness The Danish Way. Tedx Insead. Singapore. Nov. 2015.

“What is Hygge? How to enjoy the ‘cozy’ Danish lifestyle.” Dec. 4, 2018

Wiking, Meik. The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well. [London]: Penguin Life, 2016.