Do you have a favorite cotton T-shirt, softened by years of wash and use, faded and worn yet fitted to your frame like a perfect lover? You wear it out or in, and it never ceases to lift your spirit, filling you with confidence and ease. This simple artifact, neither new nor fancy, but treasured nonetheless, is the physical representation of the Danish concept of hygge, pronounced in English as “hoo-gah.”
This foreign idea, working its magic on North Americans’ collective consciousness since 2016, translates somewhat clumsily into English. You see, hygge was birthed of necessity, created by the Danes as a remedy for the angst, depression, and boredom that often accompany dark, freezing winter months. This hard-to-define state of mind was designed to help them find intimacy, contentment, and security in everyday experiences, letting them enjoy an otherwise uncomfortable season.
Used as both an adjective and noun in Denmark, it’s embraced as a way of life more than an idea. It requires nothing explicit, no purchase or oath of loyalty, and you can’t clean-eat your way there. To reap the benefits of hygge, you must slow down, pay attention, and respect the value in everything. Like taking extra time to French press your coffee for no other reason than it tastes better, or staying in pajamas to read a book on a rainy afternoon, hygge demands you acknowledge and appreciate minutiae.
Hygge is new in North America but so entrenched in Danish culture that new terms have arisen from the original. Hyggebukser, which translates to sweatpants, refers to that ratty pair you would never wear out of the house, but that keep you comfy on dates with Ben & Jerry. Things that add coziness or inspire gratitude are called hyggelig, or hygge-like.
In the world of home décor, hygge plays into minimalism and simplicity to feel at peace with what you have. It means keeping sentimental items or anything that sparks happiness and throwing everything else out (familiar to North Americans as the Konmari method, inspired by Marie Kondo). It also asks you to relax and forgive yourself when it comes to tidiness. Sometimes the dishes can wait because the kids want to play Scrabble.
Perhaps the easiest way to conjure hygge in your home is to light a candle—the most substantial item in Danish culture that embodies this idea. Burning more candles than any country in the world, Denmark corners the market on candlewax consumption and they claim these portable flames are essential to creating the atmosphere in which hygge flourishes.
Clearly, the Danes are on to something, and it’s a good thing Americans and Canadians have caught on, as Denmark ranks high on happiness surveys, despite its less-than-ideal weather trends. At its core, hygge promotes emotional well-being no matter the circumstances. Think fresh-baked banana bread on a cold morning or cheap wine at home with friends when it’s all you can afford.
To take a cue from overseas and live this way, don’t overthink it. Just look at the small rituals that make up your day and add to them. Take extra minutes in the shower to let hot water run down your back or call a friend you haven’t seen in weeks to meet for coffee (with real sugar). Try a long walk without bringing your phone. Eat an extra cookie. But before anything, get that old T-shirt from the back of your closet, the one you almost lost at a party in 10th grade. Now, put it on with your favorite hyggebukser and take a deep breath...because life is good.