The tiny country of Denmark has been voted one of the happiest countries in the world for over 40 years in a row. This year, it once again took the No. 1 spot!
So what’s the secret to their success? In my new book with co-author Iben Dissing Sandahl, The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids, we explain how the Danes’ continued happiness is due to their upbringing. Happy kids become happy parents who repeat this powerful cycle.
And one of the keys pillars of the Danish parenting model is hygge. Pronounced “hooga,” it means “to have a cozy time together” typically with family and other loved ones. Hygge is such a core part of the Danish culture that you rarely hear a conversation without it being mentioned. While it sounds simple and straightforward, it actually takes some effort to put hygge into practice — but it really does work to improve well-being.
Even if you don’t live in Denmark, these are easy ways you can incorporate more hygge into your parenting. Here’s how to start:
1. Take a hygge oath as a family. Make an agreement with your family that the next gathering — whether it’s lunch, a special family dinner, BBQ, or Thanksgiving — will be about “we time” not “me time.” Set some ground rules for this special time together, using some of the ideas below. You can also print out a sample hygge oath at thedanishway.com.
2. Create a cozy atmosphere. Prepare some nourishing food together, light some candles, or go somewhere beautiful. A nice, cozy atmosphere contributes to hygge. Try to put away the phones, tablets, and video games for hygge time. These are distracting and take away from human connection.
3. Cut the complaining, bragging, and negativity. Imagine the hygge time is a psychological space you enter into where everyone feels positive and safe together. No one should have reason to put their guard up or feel defensive or competitive. Thus, when you arrive at hygge’s door, it’s crucial to leave your complaining, negativity, judgments, bragging, and stress outside. There are plenty of other times to complain about work issues or family members or boast about how awesome you are — but hygge time is reserved for being in the moment together, leaving the stress, negativity, and bitterness behind.
You want to talk about the election, religion, or your cousin’s third divorce? That would not be hyggeligt (“cozy”). Again, since hygge is about connecting in a psychologically safe environment, having controversial debates or talking about others isn’t conducive. Leave the debates for Facebook (or ditch them altogether!).
4. Act as a team. Hygge is a team effort. See where you can help out and pick up the slack. If everyone does this, everything is easier and no one person gets stuck doing all the work. Cleaning and cooking together is hyggeligt.
5. Share fun, uplifting stories from your past. It feels good to retell positive and funny memories together. These stories are a great way to connect as a family.
6. Play. Playing games is very hyggeligt! Whether it’s cards, a board game, or a ballgame outdoors, playing games is the perfect way to be together and enjoy the present moment.
Another playful activity that Danes love is singing together. It might sound corny, but it truly brings people together and makes everyone smile.
7. Remember, hygge is time-limited. If all this coziness and togetherness feels like a struggle and you’re on the brink of needing some “me time,” remember that hygge is only for a limited time. Kids love these drama-free moments with family, and over time it becomes natural for kids to grow up and practice hygge with their own families too. What a wonderful legacy to pass on!
So if you’re longing for a little more togetherness — and even a little more joy — try a little hygge time. The benefits are similar to mindfulness (think of hygge as “we-fulness”) — it’s a recharger for the heart and soul. Try it together, and experience how well it works.