The Danish have figured out happiness.
Denmark often ranks as the happiest country in the world, earning the top spot on the World Happiness Report in three of the past five years (and finishing number two and three in the other years).
This can partially be explained by the fact that the Danes receive free health care and university education, five weeks of paid vacation each year, and substantial unemployment benefits, and they routinely leave the office by 4 or 5 p.m.
Denmark does a fantastic job of reducing many of life’s stresses for its inhabitants. But that doesn’t necessarily separate Denmark from other Nordic countries, such as Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland, the residents of which all enjoy a similar quality of life.
The secret ingredient for the Danes’ happiness is their obsession with “hygge.”
Hygge (pronounced HOO-gah) roughly translates to a sense of coziness, togetherness, and well-being. It is warmth, comfort, slowness, intimacy, rusticity, and simplicity. The Danes spend their days and nights pursuing it.
Contrast that with the United States — down at number 14 in the World Happiness rankings — where we spend many of our days feeling busy, rushed, and stressed. We would be well served to take a page from the Danes’ book — slow it down, and take time to really enjoy life.
Whether it’s curling up with a blanket and a good book, making a fire, organizing a potluck dinner with close friends, or savoring a hot cup of coffee, we can all benefit from a little more hygge in our lives.
Here’s a guide to making hygge a central part of your daily life. Much of this wisdom comes from the highly recommended bestseller The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen.
Get Together (With Just a Few Close Friends)
Social connection is the best predictor of our overall happiness. Togetherness is a central tenet of hygge and the foundation upon which many other hygge principles and activities are based. But hygge socializing isn’t about big, lavish parties. Rather, it is being in the company of a few close friends in an environment of trust, comfort, and security. According to Wiking, nearly 60 percent of Danes believe that the ideal number of people to experience hygge with is three to four (Only 1 percent of Danes believe hygge is best achieved with 10 or more people). Getting together with a small circle of close friends or loved ones is a hallmark of hygge.
Build this into your routine with a standing happy hour every Friday to celebrate the end of the workweek, a Sunday brunch with friends at your local bakery, a rotating dinner club that meets at a different house each month, or a book club that regularly gathers over tea and coffee. You could make a plan to watch a TV show with friends each week on the day and time it actually airs, or build your outings around restaurant theme nights (e.g., Pizza and Wine Wednesdays). The point is to make it a recurring commitment with close friends and to minimize the hassle of coordinating everyone’s schedule on a weekly basis.
Enjoy Good Food and Drink
A hygge food experience is comfortable and warm. It is casual, rustic, and slow. This experience can be enjoyed at home or at your favorite cafe, coffeehouse, or pub (or any other establishment where the atmosphere is cozy and the music isn’t too loud for conversation).
Hygge food is a hearty stew, fresh-baked bread, a warm grilled cheese with soup, or a shared bowl of popcorn. The Danes also love their sweets, especially baking and eating cakes, cookies, and pastries. Anything home-cooked is much more hygge than something store-bought.
Hygge drinks are best served warm. Tea, hot chocolate, and mulled wine all have a high hygge factor. Especially on a cold winter night. But the Danes’ favorite hygge drink is hot coffee. According to The Little Book of Hygge, the Danes are the fourth-biggest coffee drinkers in the world and take in 33 percent more coffee per capita than Americans.
Slowly sipping alcohol is also associated with hygge. This could be drinking a glass of red wine while a storm rages outside or enjoying a glass of whiskey or Irish coffee around the campfire. Meeting up with friends at a comfortable lounge or speakeasy gets the hygge going as well. Go for the vibe found at theLibrary Bar in Copenhagen.
Disconnect and Savor the Moment
You cannot achieve hygge while checking your phone or email. Hygge is all about disconnecting and enjoying the present moment. It is shared experiences right here and now, taking it all in without imagining being somewhere else. Follow the Danes’ lead by leaving work on time and going home to eat and play together with your family. Turn off your email and social media on the weekend (and definitely when you’re on vacation). Hygge life is simple and slow. Go offline to turn the hygge on.