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.
Turn the Lights Down Low
A hygge atmosphere is dimmed and low, not light and bright. The optimal hygge lighting is achieved by making a fire, turning on low-temperature lamps, or lighting a few candles. In fact, Wiking notes that nearly 75 percent of Danes light candles at least once per week, and 28 percent do so every day—often lighting more than five candles at a time. Hygge light is the first hour of sunrise or the last hour of sunset. Go outside for that magical experience, or try to recreate that level of lighting indoors. In general, you’re aiming for the light of flames, not fluorescents.
When choosing your outfit, keep it comfortable and casual. Layers are important so you’re never cold (remember, hygge is all about warmth). Dial up the hygge with a warm sweater, wool socks, and scarf. Feel free to bring out your own personal style, but keep it classy and cozy. And always have a warm blanket nearby.
Make Your Home a Hygge Hot Spot
Seventy-one percent of Danes report experiencing the most hygge at home, according to Wiking. Make your home a hygge hot spot with a library of books, a fireplace, and lit candles. Wiking says that every house needs a “hyggekrog,” essentially a nook where you can curl up with a good book and a warm drink. Accessorize the space with a blanket and plenty of cushions.
The Danes also adorn their homes with rustic and vintage items, such as wooden tables and chairs, old lamps, or a worn-in leather chair. Anything handcrafted is much more hygge than a mass-produced item. Dress up your sitting areas with sheepskin or other animal skins. And, of course, make sure your favorite teapot and coffee mug are nearby. Overall, you want your home to feel warm and safe, not sleek and sterile.
We can follow the Danes’ lead by prioritizing simplicity, modesty, and functionality when decorating our homes. Hygge could be considered a form of cozy minimalism—every item should serve a purpose to increase feelings of warmth, comfort, and security for you and your guests.
Get Out in Nature
Although home is often where the hygge is, it is abundant outside as well. Hygge is natural, simple, and rustic, just like the great outdoors. Get close to nature and you will experience hygge.
It could be a ski trip with friends, a long hike in the woods, a camping trip, or even just a walk around the block. Surround yourself with nature — on a boat, at a friend’s cabin, watching the sunset, or looking up at the stars — and let the hygge wash over you.
If you live in an urban environment, you can seek out a public park, river, or community garden to get closer to nature. Walk or bike to work if that’s an option, or go for a walk every day on your lunch break. Having a dog will also lead to plenty of walks outside (not to mention companionship).
Play Games and Get Creative
Think about fun traditions that you can start with friends and family. There are plenty of easy and inexpensive ways to hygge if you’re willing to try new things. Maybe it’s family game night every Friday or inviting friends over once a month for movie and popcorn night. Or perhaps just a routine of relaxing on the couch and watching your favorite TV show at the end of a long week.
Instead of dining out, try having friends over for a potluck dinner where everyone brings a dish (find your signature dish here), or consider starting a cooking or wine-tasting club that meets regularly. Of course, you could also just have a close friend over for coffee or tea on a regular basis — if there’s a warm fire and soft music in the background, all the better.
Celebrate the Seasons
It should come as no surprise that winter is the most hygge time of year, and Christmas is the most hygge holiday of all. Embrace it by being with close family and friends, watching holiday movies, putting up decorations, and indulging in good food and drink. Go ice skating or sledding, and warm up with hot chocolate by the fire. Sit by the window and watch the snow fall outside.
Although it’s easiest to visualize hygge in winter, you can certainly hygge year-round. When the weather is nice, visit your local farmers market and have a picnic in the park. Have friends over for a backyard summer barbecue, take the kids apple picking, or sit in the shade of a tree and read a good book. Go for a walk on the beach, take a dip in the saltwater, or enjoy a leisurely bike ride through town. Take what the season gives you and lean into it.
Boiling it all down, hygge is about the simple pleasures in life. It is being surrounded by good food and good friends. It is taking it all in and enjoying the moment.
It is everyday happiness.
It is working wonders for the Danes, and I hope it works for you, too.