exploring hygge

I ran across the word ‘hygge’ a couple of years ago, after seeing a friend’s post on Instagram about a book she had just read (The Little Book of Hygge published in 2016 by Meik Wiking, CEO of The Happiness Research Institute in Denmark) and how she was trying to bring more elements of cozy and comfortable into her home and living space.

What is hygge? It’s pronounced ‘hoo-gah’ and per Wikipedia it is a Danish word meaning ‘to give courage, comfort, joy.’ Wikipedia goes on to explain that hygge might have originated from the word hug, which comes from the word hugge (think 1560s Old Norse language), meaning ‘to embrace.’ Tracing back a little further, hugge seems to be associated with the Old Norse word hygga meaning ‘to comfort,’ and descended from the word hugr meaning ‘mood.’ Going back even further, hugr comes from hugyan, of Germanic descent and related to the Old English word hycgan, meaning ‘to think, consider.’

According to Wikipedia, hygge appeared in Danish writing in the 19th century, and has grown in popularity, use, and overall culture in Norway and Denmark. While both Norwegian and Danish languages assign the same meaning to the word, Norway treats hygge as just a word, similar to the word cozy. Denmark, on the other hand, embraces hygge as a significant part of their cultural identity.

The Collins English Dictionary uses this definition for hygge – ‘the practice of creating cosy and congenial environments that promote emotional wellbeing.’ The popularity of the word hygge can be gauged by its runner-up status as word of the year in the UK in 2016, second only to ‘Brexit‘ that year.

Since 2016, hygge has increased in popularity with the publication of several books focusing on the subject: The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking (2016), Hygge: The Danish Art of Happiness by Marie Tourell Søderberg (2016), and The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Well by Louisa Thomsen Brits.

Hygge is not restricted to just Norway and Denmark. Other countries (and languages) have words with similar meanings.

  • Dutch – gezellig and gezelligheid: similar concept to hygge, also pertaining to comfort and cosiness, but these words are more socially oriented.
  • German – Gemütlichkeit: means the state of warmth, friendliness and belonging.
  • Norwegian – koselig: adjective used to describe a feeling of warmth, intimacy and getting together in an agreeable environment.
  • Swedish – mysig (and its associated noun mys): adjective describing a pleasant and warm atmosphere of togetherness in a pleasant setting.
  • Japanese – まったり (mattari): suggests a feeling of calm relaxation.

Photo by Skyler Ewing on Pexels.com

Back to my friend’s Instagram post a few years ago. What she meant was warm blankets, hot cocoa, and candles on chilly winter nights as evidenced by her pics. It looked very cozy, a place to curl up and relax or read a book.

I think there’s more to hygge. There’s a physical hygge – the blankets, the style, candles, plants, coffee, a wool sweater on a cool day.

But, I believe there is also a mental form of hygge, as in the feeling of well-being or contentment within yourself. Hygge in your physical surroundings can certainly help with your mental hygge, but can a warm blanket and lovely candle fix everything?

The more detailed meaning for both Danish and Norwegian languages consider hygge to mean ‘a pleasant and highly valued everyday experience of safety, equality, personal wholeness and a spontaneous social flow.’ Hygge also means something nice, cozy, safe and known, and refers to a psychological state as well as the coziness of warm blankets.

In my quest for finding joy along the way, this concept of hygge really resonates with me. What if the distilled down definition of hygge is really joy? Where are you finding hygge or joy today?

Is it in washing and cutting the vegetables for your evening meal? Is it watering your flowers and seeing the new blooms? Is it the fresh smell of petrichor soon after starting to rain? Watching the hummingbird land softly on the feeder outside your kitchen window?

Whatever it is, I am wishing you clear and distinct moments that bring you joy and hygge this week.