With the Danish term ‘hygge’ added to the Oxford English Dictionary, Denmark has since been reinventing what it means to slow down, unwind, and savor precious moments with our loved ones.
Hygge may have become a popular term used by bloggers and authors the world over, but the concept still baffles some living outside Denmark. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as ‘a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being’. Pronounced ‘hoo-guh’, it is as complex as it sounds.
Put simply, hygge is about taking time out from the hectic daily life to be with people you care about, or even by yourself, to relax and indulge in life’s quieter pleasures. To understand the cultural phenomenon, you need to delve into its origin.
When it comes to the Danes, their way of life is centered on pleasure – which is more about simplicity and wholesomeness than hedonism. Think cuddling up with a cup of hot cocoa, lighting up a scented wooden candle in your bedroom, or reveling in a luscious piece of sponge cake.
Ask any Dane when’s the prime time for hygge, and nine out of ten would say it’s the winter season. Denmark’s long, frigid winter is at its darkest in mid-December, when the weak sunlight lasts merely seven hours a day. The resultant gloom encourages them to spend time indoors.
On Christmas Eve, after a sumptuous feast of traditional goose is consumed, Danish families join hands and dance around the Christmas tree whilst chanting Christmas carols – the tree is often Norwegian spruce furnished with homemade embellishments and freshly-lit candles. Christmas can hardly get more hygge than that.
Emphasizing sociality and the gaiety of appreciating the smaller things in life, hygge deserves some of the credits for the fact that Denmark regularly ranks among the world’s happiest countries.
Long considered as part of the Danish national character, the hygge culture is underpinned by the introduction of the well-developed Danish welfare state in the 1950s, one that takes care of its citizens from cradle to grave, ensuring a healthy work-life balance as well as free education and universal healthcare. With almost everything secured, the Danes have the luxury to turn towards their inner self and nurture their well-being.
But instead of viewing hygge as an economic status, perhaps the Danish cosy ethos is an apt foil to our increasingly disconnected society. As it resonates with the international audience, globetrotters are, time and time again, travelling to Denmark for an authentic taste of hygge. In Denmark’s capital Copenhagen, that may entail merriment at the quaint Tivoli Garden amusement park, or an idle stroll along the windy beaches on the west coast of Jutland.
In today’s fast-paced and unpredictable world, where international conflicts and ecological disasters occur with monotonous frequency, hygge reminds us to seize the moment and seek solace in the company of people we love.
So turn off technology once in a while, go outdoors with your kins and buddies, or simply snuggle up in your home for some solitary reflections. You may find that happiness is often disguised in the trivialities in life.