Hygge is a Danish concept that has a difficult translation. One the very surface, it is coziness, but that is like saying Zen is about peacefulness. It is a factor, it isn’t wrong to say, but it misses most of the nuance that it embodies. Only a person raised in Denmark, surrounded by hygge, will be able to appreciate and understand this concept. The rest of us can poke at it, play with it, and at least get the general idea of what is hygge.
In The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking described ten components of hygge as part of the Hygge Manifesto. These ten were Atmosphere, Presence, Pleasure, Equality, Gratitude, Harmony, Comfort, Truce, Togetherness, and Shelter. We will explore these concepts and provide more detail to them as we discuss how to create hygge at home.
In The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking, Atmosphere is listed as “turn down the lights.” Lights are one part of atmosphere.
Atmosphere is unhelpfully defined as the “air of locality” which encompasses a lot more than lighting. When you think of setting the atmosphere of hygge, you should be thinking of candles and ambient lights. Create soft pools of light in a darkened room.
And then think beyond lights. What sounds are you hearing in your hygge home? Do you hear street noise, the neighbor’s TV, or something else that breaks your feeling of comfort? Using a white noise generator or music to cover up unwanted noises are a good alternative if you can’t dampen the noise.
Let’s not ignore odor as part of atmosphere. You don’t want overpowering scents and obviously you don’t want foul odors. Essential oil diffusers, scented candles, baked goods, and some soaps or perfumes are great sources of pleasing odors.
(Unsolicited, our favorite scented soap comes from Seventh Sojourn soap. Trust us, this is magical soap.)
A central theme of hygge is the concept of presence. There are many ways in which we “escape” from the place we are. Smartphones are the most obvious way in which we remove our presence.
Smartphones aren’t the only way in which we fail at being present in our space. Pretty much any media you consume alone is a way to take yourself away.
We are big fans of reading. We are big fans of escapism. But we are also big fans of being present in the moment with others. You need to find a balance.
Facebook is not hygge, face-to-face is.
How to Create Presence in Your Hygge Home
- Dinner time.
- Cooking, eating, and cleaning up together is very hygge.
- Game nights.
- Playing games together is a great way to be present.
- Movie nights.
- Watching TV by yourself is not hygge. Sharing a movie with friends and family can be very hygge.
Creating harmony in your home is another way of making your home more hygge. Harmony can’t be purchased at Target like a candle or diffuser. Harmony requires everyone to understand what the goal is.
We are looking to create cooperation. Working together for a common purpose. Literally this could be making music together, but it could be doing anything that turns us away from competition.
Some common ways of bringing harmony into your home include cooking and cleaning together, doing a jigsaw puzzle, or playing a cooperative game like The Quiet Year, Forbidden Island, or The Princess Bride Adventure Book Game.
In our very contentious political times, family gatherings can turn into debates, arguments, and fights. All of which are not hygge.
A truce, in a war, is not surrender. No one is asking you or others to give up your beliefs. All that is being asked is to set aside the arguments and fights.
How to Create a Truce with an Argumentative Family?
Millions of Americans are asking them this question every Thanksgiving and Christmas. How do you sit down at a table with that sibling, aunt, uncle, or parent who has holds diametrically opposed views than you?
First, don’t engage. Put the “truce” on the table. Let everyone know that will not argue because for this night, this day, you are more interested in hygge than arguing.
Second, if no one is respecting the truce, encourage distraction. Find the common ground, whether it is the love of a specific movie, food, or music. If the conversation is swerving dangerously into topics which cause arguments, force the conversation to more neutral topics or areas where contention doesn’t matter – like pineapple on pizza.
Third, use silence as your retort. If you are being goaded, remind the one goading you that you are honoring a truce for the sake of hygge and you will only respond with silence, but if they want to talk about favorite desserts or nostalgia, then you will gladly speak up.
Finally, disengage. Yes, this is sort of like not engaging or going silent, but this is physically removing yourself. Not in a huff, not in a slamming doors, or dramatic exit, but quietly excusing yourself and walking away. Take the garbage out, go to a new room, go for a walk, take a trip to the store for more butter.
It does take all parties to abide by the truce. If one of those people value fighting over hygge, then no truce can be had.
Togetherness is a vital aspect of hygge. The Danes have a remarkable sense of work/life balance. In the book The Year of Living Danishly, Helen Russell describes this work life balance in a comical anectdote about being surprised by her husband showing up at home at 3pm on a Friday. She compares this to her life in London when she and her husband never got to see each other because of their work schedules.
Being together, socializing with coworkers, friends, and family is very hygge. The best number of people for hygge, according to the Danes, is 3 to 4.
Togetherness also comes from the activities we do with others. A theme we keep bring up is cooking together. There is something about preparing a meal with other people, sharing the tasks, and sharing the dining is peak togetherness.
We also like to call out cleaning together is also a great way to be together and working towards common cause.
We are all in this together. The work of the home shouldn’t fall onto any one person. Many hands make light work.
When we talk about making your home hyggelig, it often implies one person bears the burden. One person has to make sure the small pleasures are available for everyone, one person has to create the warm and cozy environment, make the tea, bake the cinnamon rolls, and keep everyone calm, relaxed, and restful.
Don’t let that happen. Don’t let the work of hygge fall on the shoulders of one or two people. And don’t wait for someone to tell you. Equality is about sharing the burden and joy. Part of the burden is seeing what needs to be done and doing it. Putting someone in the role of telling you what needs to be done is violating the concept of equality.
Warm blankets, fuzzy socks, cardigans, and sweatpants are just the start of comfort. Cushions and pillows, plush rugs, are even more ways to bring comfort into your home. Personally we are big fans of slippers over thick woolen socks.
The idea of comfort is about letting yourself relax. You aren’t trying to impress anyone. Your hair doesn’t have to be perfect. You can spend all day in pajama pants if you find that comfortable.
The one aspect of comfort you should keep in mind is your comfort should not come at the expense of another person’s comfort. In a John Stuart Millsian sort of way, your right to be a slob stops at the point your slobbiness makes me uncomfortable.
Simply, you can’t be stinky and gross. Stinky and gross is uhygge – or anti-hygge.
Beyond that, keep the bra off, wear those sweatpants, wrap yourself up like a giant burrito in your favorite blanket.
Reflect on the good in your life. It is so easy to wallow in the negatives of our lives. Clench our jaws and think about a jerk at work or the piece of work who cut your off in traffic.
Taking time to appreciate the good things in your life is hyggeligt.
Start with the obvious. Who made you dinner? Who folded your laundry? Who went to the grocery store? Showing gratitude for these actions is easy.
Then you can expand outward into more abstract concepts. Like being grateful for having dinner, grateful for having clothes, grateful for having access to a selection of food.
You can see how gratitude can apply to so much in your life.
A loyal dog, a loving cat, healthy houseplants, they are all things to be grateful for and all things that can let you step away from the negative things in your life.
These things that you are grateful for aren’t respites from the negative, they are what your life is about. You don’t suffer the negatives in order to have moments of gratefulness. We need to dispel the idea that you must suffer in order to earn good things. You deserve the good without dealing with the jerks and the son-of-guns out there.
Hygge is not hedonism, but pleasure is a key component of hygge. Chocolate, pastries, and favorite beverages are some simple pleasures.
Consider what brings you pleasure, gives you positive feelings. Is it food and drink? Is it music? Maybe a foot spa, back rub, or a long soak in a hot bath is what gives you pleasure.
A hygge home is one that gives you access to your favorite pleasures. Keep a stash of those salted caramels you love. Or maybe you love your coffee, so go ahead and splurge on your favorite beans. Many people have a tea obsession and that is absolutely fine. Sitting with a hot cup of tea made from treasured leaves is one of the best pleasures you may experience. Sharing that tea with someone else … pure bliss.
Don’t think too hard about this. Pleasure is simple and primal.
Shelter is a big component to hygge. The Little Book of Hygge says shelter is more than the structure of your home. It is your tribe, your peace, your security.
Your tribe goes beyond family. Your tribe are your people. To make a broad generalization about Viking culture, the tribe are the people you allow in your longhouse in the cold winter months, sharing food and drink, sharing warmth and story.
Shelter is about those people and things that bring you peace.
We hate to mention things because things imply hygge can be purchased. Despire all the talk about candles, lights, rugs, cushions, diffusers, games, and all those products, hygge isn’t for sale. You can buy every item that is labeled hygge and your home will not be more hygge.
There has to be intention about the things and activities you bring into your home. Just because a book or blog told you that something will make your home more hygge doesn’t make it true. You will know if you feel more cozy, more hygge, when you find the right candles, the right cushions, the right chocolate covered caramels.
Creating Hygge in Your Home and Your Life
How are you going to create hygge in your home? Start by making it a priority. Commit to creating the conditions that allow for everyone in your home can feel safe, sound, and happy all at once.
This might involve setting aside time each day or week when family members step back from their busy schedules and just spend some quality time together doing nothing but enjoying one another’s company.
It may also mean removing any distractions that keep people apart such as phones or computers so they’re not constantly looking down instead of up–and connecting with those around them! A good way to start is by thinking about what specific things make you feel cozy and then incorporating these elements into how you decorate your space.
Frequently Asked Questions about Hygge
Can You Hygge Alone?
Yes. Though one of the core components of hygge is togetherness, hygge can be experienced by yourself. Making whatever space you find yourself in more hygge will make your life better, whether with others or by yourself.
How do I live a Hygge Lifestyle?
There is no specific way to live a hygge lifestyle, but you are experiencing hygge when you are spending quality time with a few close friends and family. When you have surrounded yourself with natural decor and are treating yourself with simple pleasures. You aren’t worried about what you are wearing, you are comfortable, relaxed, and in the moment.
Is Hygge an Aesthetic?
Hygge is not an aesthetic like cottagecore is an aesthetic. While interior design may be influenced by hygge, hygge by itself is not an aesthetic. It is a concept developed in Denmark regarding a general feeling of “coziness.” Aesthetics are more of a design formula.
Is Hygge a Fad?
Hygge may have launched itself onto the American scene with the force of a fad, but hygge has been a significant part of Danish culture for hundreds of years. So while aspects of hygge in non-Danish households may be there due to the “newness” of the concept, hygge itself is not a fad.
How Much Does Hygge Cost?
Hygge cannot be bought. There are many aspects of hygge that come with a cost, those are not necessary for hygge. Hygge is a feeling that comes from a space designed for hygge. Lighting, cushions, pillows, throws, and woolen socks with hot cocoa and a book only have to cost what it takes to have them. Don’t chase hygge with your wallet, chase it with the feeling of comfort.
What are the Rules of Hygge?
There are guidelines of hygge, but no rules. Unless you are a Dane born and raised in Denmark, you will not truly get hygge. You can approximate it. You can edge closer to it by following the writings of Meik Wiking in The Little Book of Hygge and other writings by the Danes. Think about what makes you physically, mentally, and emotionally comfortable. Hygge isn’t just about your body, but your mind and soul as well. Everything you do that achieves comfort is following the guidelines of hygge. Or close enough. Just don’t be surprised if the Danes are skeptical at your efforts.
Who Invented Hygge?
The word hygge is Norwegian but Denmark took it and turned it into a full-blown concept. And yes, hygge is related to the word hug, which helps frame the concept.
Is Hygge Cultural Appropriation?
We, who are not Danish but are Scandiphiles and who love the concept of hygge, do need to make sure we aren’t inappropriately appropriating the Danish culture.
Are you using hygge to sell something? Is trying to create hygge in your home causing you stress? These are signs that maybe, just maybe, you aren’t pursuing hygge, but you are trying to wear hygge as a costume.
Books about Hygge
- The LIttle Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking
- The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell
- Gone Viking by Helen Russell
- How to Hygge: The Nordic Secrets to a Happy Life by Signe Johansen
- Lagom: Not Too Little, Not Too Much: The Swedish Art of Living a Balanced, Happy Life by Niki Brantmark
- Pantsdrunk: Kalsarikanni: The Finnish Path to Relaxation by Miska Rantanen
- The Little Book of Fika: The Uplifting Daily Ritual of the Swedish Coffee Break by Lynda Balslev