Hygge-mania and what it actually means for people who aren’t Danish
I just finished my umpteenth interview for a magazine about hygge today. I write about the life changing power of hygge for familes in my book The Danish Way of Parenting: what the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident Capable Kids. And while I feel honored to be one of the first writers to discuss hygge, I am also blown away to see what used to be a completely unknown and unpronounceable word now sweeping the globe in a kind of hygge-mania.
If you haven’t already been hit by hygge-mania, you probably will be soon. There have been over 9 books and counting launched on hygge in 2016 alone and it was just chosen as one of the top ten words of the year by Collins dictionary. It also made the short list for word of the year in The Oxford dictionary. Hygge (pronounced hooga) directly translates to mean cozy or homey, but this does little to encompass the true breadth of what it actually is. So what does hygge mean?
I have heard everything from people talking about “getting their hoog on” for the weekend whilst buying up wine and candles by the carload to cozy around with. Another woman told me she thought “getting her hoog on” was a great excuse to eat chocolate cake guilt free and others tie it directly to a good book and a woolly blanket. Really, anyone’s interpretation is possible these days because you can literally purchase hygge branded candles, incense, socks, woolly blankets, mugs, cushions and even furniture lines to ensure maximum coziness.
While I find absolutely nothing wrong with devouring chocolate cake by candlelight with a good book and a woolly blanket (guilt free), I can’t help but ask: is this really what hygge is all about?
It took me 17 years of experiencing hygge with my Danish family and friends to finally understand what I believe it actually is for non-Danes and why it is tied to happiness. And it’s so much more than the candles and the blankets.
Hygge is about being present with the ones you love without having to put your guard up. It’s creating a safe psychological space where you leave your negativity, stress, complaining and controversy at the door for a period of time. It is a team effort and everyone has to try to create this space for it to work.
It may sound easy, but for those of us who are used to a heated debate over the Christmas table, some family drama, or at the very least, a neurotic tendency to complain about, you know what I mean when I say that creating that harmony isn’t so straightforward.
These days you hear so much about mindfulness and the benefits it has on wellbeing. I describe hygge as “wefulness”. If everyone agrees to it, it works and it is powerful. This social connectedness that real hygge guarantees is scientifically proven to improve our happiness levels.
These unspoken rules of hygge, however, are woven so tightly into the cultural fabric of Denmark that most Danes are unaware they even exist. Thus “getting your hoog on” may look and sound cool on the outside but the actual mental connected space of hygge on the inside is much more profound than a cozy looking room.
It takes awareness and presence of mind to create a psychological safe space. But once you have achieved that we-fulness with your loved ones, there is no cake, hot chocolate or wooly socks in the world that can hold a candle to it… even when there is a room packed full of them. Once you feel it, you’ll know what I mean.
For more on how to hygge, you can read the hygge oath here.
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