How to be Happy Like the Danish

January 31, 2017

There were lots of “buzz words” for 2016, including some we’d like to forget (“post-truth” and “Brexit” come to mind).  But there’s one that perhaps we’d like to hear more of:  “Hygge.”

You’re probably familiar with the surveys taken every year by the United Nations that almost always come back with Scandinavia as the region with the happiest people.  How do they do it?  Part of their happiness may be because of the free education, universal healthcare, and long vacation benefits.  Could it also be the fact that with no mountains in Denmark, people never have to bike uphill?  (And most everybody commutes to work by bike).  Is it the 42 sausages that most Danish people eat a year?  Or the fact that their harbor is clean enough to swim in?

It could be all these things, or it could be what the Danish like to call “Hygge.”  Hygge — pronounced, variously, as “hyue-gar,” “hoog-jar” but most commonly “hoo-gah” — is an approach to living an everyday life with positivity and enjoyment of everyday experiences (what we would call “the little things”).  It is said to be a core concept of life in the Nordic region and an attitude that is, at the heart, a huge part of their culture.

Let’s think about our lives here in the States a little bit.  Most of us commute by car, train or bus; and most of us have long commutes and work indoors, with little time for lunch or a walk or really any outside time in the winter.  Depending upon where you live in the United States, in the winter months you may wake up to darkness and step out of work to more darkness.  And, in a materialistic society where people are often times focused on consumerism and “trying to keep up with the Jones,’” people rarely take time out of their day to have gratitude for something that they may deem as “little.”  (An example of something that we may consider to be small may be cooking together as a family and then playing a board game).

According to Meik Wiking, the author of “The Little Book of Hygge” and the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute of Copenhagen, the point of hygge is togetherness, social connection, and remembering that all we need to get through difficult times is, really, “shelter and sustenance, kith and kin.” It’s about connection more than “things.”

It seems that this train of thought is resonating not just with the Danish, but with people all over the world right now, and it may be because we’re living in a very unstable and stressful time.  People are looking to take care of themselves and what they can control, instead of getting too caught up and fearful of the world during these tumultuous times.

If you’re interested in incorporating some “Hygge” into your life, read on!

  1. Bring nature inside.  If you can get outside, depending upon where in the country you live, great.  But when winter strikes and you find yourself indoors, try bringing in some pinecones, bunches of beautiful flowers, and even think about decorating your house with a pretty wooden table.  Surround yourself with nature as much as possible.
  2. Drink hot chocolate.  Eat that popcorn or treat that makes you smile.  Wear your crazy cozy socks. Do more of what you love.  Don’t deprive yourself of happiness and remember that you really can find joy in these “little things.”
  3. Curl up on the couch with pillows, blankets, and a good book.  Hey, if you’ve got a roaring fire to sit by, even better!  Hygge says that there is nothing quite like a comfy nook in your house where you can disconnect from technology, smell the pages of a new book, and feel warmth in your toes.  In fact, real estate agents say that many houses in Denmark even have a specific nook in their house just for this very thing!
  4. Stash your phones, TV remote, iPads, and anything else that can get in the way of “maximum hygge!” Perhaps set out a basket in your foyer where people can drop their tech devices for an hour a night; devote that time to something relaxing like reading a book, playing a game with your family, or using your slow-cooker to make a nice, warm, comforting meal.
  5. Low-key get-togethers are the name of the game here.  It’s wonderful to be with people you love, but hygge isn’t supposed to bring about stress with a 7-course meal or tons of prepping.  Think of having a potluck, serving warm, comforting foods, and a “come as you are” motto (in other words, nothing formal or stuffy).


What to have on hand for an optimal hygge experience:

Warm drink fixings (marshmallows, cinnamon sticks, honey for tea), cozy socks, things that will trigger nostalgic memories (think photo albums or old letters), chocolate (or some other treat that you can savor), paper and pen (when was the last time you jotted down something that wasn’t a to-do list?  Get creative), and a book you love (re-read an old classic or finally sit down to read that one that’s been on your night table for months now).

Give these things the old hygge try!  There are certainly stressful situations that we can’t always control.  Yet the magic ingredient to reducing some aspects of stress may be right in your own home.  Try disconnecting from technology and the outside world a little bit more, and in place, spend quiet time with loved ones in a warm and healthy environment instead.  Because really–these “little things” aren’t so little after all.

If you’re interested in reading more, check out Meik Wiking’s book called “The Little Book of Hygge.”

Why not make this the “Year of the Hygge?”