Hygge, the Danish way to happiness and living

Every year, Denmark has eight months when the sun is hardly seen, and a grim rain usually tops up the darkness. Still, Danes were considered the happiest people in the world for many years, and I believe there are a few things we can all learn from them, especially during times such as the lockdown – but not only. Living in Copenhagen for two years, I’ve got to experience things myself, and these lines are a perfect reminder of the Danish way of living, experiencing life, and being happy. 

Given nature beauty and the sun are so scarce, Danes have learned to master the joy of enjoying little things. They created a world of coziness, simple living, authenticity, and pure enjoyment. I am an absolute nature lover, but I am yet to see more happiness on everyone’s faces as the ones of Danes when the first rays of sun came out in spring. Even if it was still freaking cold in May, people were out in the parks barbecuing and being joyful for the light they now get to see, compared to winter darkness. It felt amazing! 

How do they do it? They master the art of hygge, a culture of well-being, and simplicity. 

What is hygge? 

“Hygge” originally comes from a Norwegian term that means a feeling of “well-being” (Norway was a part of Denmark for quite a long time before they split). The Danish word “hygge” is used to acknowledge a particular feeling or moment that is cozy, warm, and just plain good. It can be a moment you enjoy alone or with friends, at home or outside, ordinary or extraordinary. 

To the ones not at all familiar with it, imagine being at home for Christmas, near the tree, on a comfy sofa, surrounded by pillows and with candles lit around you. Outside is snowing, and you are free to do whatever you want: hug your lover, play with your pet, listen to your favorite music, or read the book you want. Everywhere around you is calm and quiet; your soul is at peace. You’re free to do whatever you want to relax and be happy, while outside is dark and cold, but beautiful to watch from the cozy place inside your home. That feeling of a just perfect moment and complete harmony – that’s hygge. 

How to adopt a hygge lifestyle 

Danes created hygge as a way to survive the cold, dull, and dark days of the long winters. The simplest acts of lighting a candle while enjoying a cup of coffee in the morning or enjoying a home-cooked dinner with your dear ones are the things that make a difference in your spirit. 

While hygge doesn’t refer to tangible things you can buy, such as a “hygge living room” or “hygge drinks,” there are ways to create a hygge lifestyle for ourselves. And this culture can be applied everywhere, not just in Denmark. It is a way of living we can all borrow. Small changes here and there can facilitate your hygge environment, atmosphere, and state of mind, contributing to reaching the Danish happiness level. 

Hygge Decalogue 

To make things simple, let’s dive into what makes hygge this beautiful warm culture. And see how it’s easy to adopt at least some of the things that Danes do to live a happier life. 

1. Atmosphere 

You can lower a bit the light intensity for a cozier and more intimate atmosphere in your home and workplace. Notice how restaurants and cafés are already doing this in the evenings, for greater comfort and happier customers, creating a sense of intimacy. For example, at home, I rarely use the big lights. I always prefer the table or floor lamps that offer such a warm atmosphere. 

2. Being present 

While with friends or at home, turn off your phone and learn to enjoy the present moment. Leave social media aside, and pay attention to what is happening and what you’re experiencing in the real world around you. If nothing is happening, enjoy the silence or start doing something for your soul that gives you satisfaction. 

You may have noticed that if you’ve stayed a long time indoors during the lockdown, once you open a window, you suddenly hear all the birds sing? Or if you go outside, you notice how green everything is or how flowers have bloomed? That’s being present, and remember that feeling for everything you do. 

3. Relax 

Use the smallest things to relax: enjoy a coffee or tea, eat some chocolate, lit some candles, or talk to a friend about something nice. We’re not necessarily talking about taking days off and going to a nice place on holiday to relax. We’re talking about adopting the habit to find the little things that relax you, practice them and learn to enjoy them all. 

Danes are also pretty strict when it comes to taking time off to relax on holiday. Make sure you do that; our brain needs to switch off from time to time and recharge. Even if you don’t travel far, especially during these times, there are still plenty of things to enjoy while taking a break. 

4. Equality 

If you live with a significant other or with a family, there should be no more “me,” but “us.” Do the chores together, cook dinner, and make it all fun and easy. Then eat, sip some wine, watch TV together, or play a board game and enjoy the time spent together in a way everyone enjoys it equally. 

What shocked me while living there was that people never bragged about anything that could put them ahead of others. Taking a high score in school was in no way a reason to celebrate, nor did any personal success. Their sense of collective and “no one is better than anyone” is reflected in the Jante Law, rooted deeply in the Nordic cultures. And it was quite a thing to get used to, but then it made so much sense for the way they choose to live their lives. 

5. Gratitude 

Learn to think that what you have is the best for yourself at the moment, and be grateful for that. Be thankful for the little things in your life, the free ones, the experiences. These are the ones that matter, and happiness is related to how able you are to notice them and their value. 

6. Harmony 

A cultural aspect common to the Nordic cultures is the no competition ideology. No one is better than the rest, and no one is bragging about their good grades, job successes, or other achievements. You might find it a bit weird, but Danish people believe that being humble is the basis for harmony between individuals, and they live by this belief. 

7. Comfort 

I think this is one of the most significant steps into adopting hygge: to bring comfort everywhere you are and in everything you do. The way your house looks, the type of food you eat, where you eat it, when and where you take a break, what you do with your free time, whom you feel most comfortable spending time with and doing it often. It’s very much about sitting in your comfort zone unless you want to break it and do something new. You even can choose to wait to feel comfortable about the idea you’ll feel uncomfortable while undertaking some change intentionally. 

8. Taking a break 

Not necessarily taking breaks from studying or from your job, though those are needed as well. The words refer to the habit of leaving aside dramas and politics and focus on what matters. On authenticity, simple things, long term plans, and contribution. Building on the existing instead of rotting and digging deeper into the past and negative is a crucial ingredient to achieve hygge. Taking a break is also a matter of taking good care of your body and mind, as without being healthy and sane, one cannot be happy. 

9. Friends 

Friends work like a balm for the soul and help you live in the moment, build memories, and contribute to feeling happy. As humans, we’re meant to be social and feel connected to our dear ones, and this is one of the most important pillars to a happy soul and meaningful life. Good friends and real conversations contribute to making one’s world more beautiful. 

10. Home 

Your house is your shelter, the place where you feel secure and comfortable and can be yourself. Once you get to feel this way about the place you’re living in, once that place holds memories, and you feel at ease, your house becomes your home. To Danes, a home is cozy, intimate and full of candles and unique decorations. It’s the place where the soul feels at ease. The aim is to feel at home in at least one place on this Earth. It will bring joy and comfort to any soul and therefore contribute to the everyday hygge. 

As you can now see, hygge requires being present, and the ability to recognize and enjoy the present moment. That’s the Danish recipe to happiness, and I believe we all can learn from it, be it with regards to our home, chosen atmosphere and attitudes, friends, and state of mind. 

And to close this article, if you’re curious to find out more, I have a cozy little book recommendation: “The little book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to a Happy Living.” Enjoy!