Warmth. Coziness. Intentional intimacy—who doesn’t want these things? All these words come close to describing the Danish word hygge. But the true definition is elusive, like trying to define happiness. Hygge is more of a feeling—one of contentment and well-being. Imagine the coziness of sitting by a fire, wrapped in a fluffy blanket, sipping a hot cup of coffee, and visiting with people you care for. That’s hygge (pronounced hue-gah). Sharing it with others is key.
The word hygge first appeared in Danish writing in the 19th century, and it’s been woven into Danish culture ever since. In the past few years, hygge has become a global phenomenon. The Danes are generously sharing what has been one of their secrets to being among the happiest people on the planet.
“This is a good time of year to add some hygge into our daily lives,” says Kirstine Bendix Knudsen, special project coordinator for the Nordic Museum in Seattle, who moved to Washington five years ago from Denmark. “At home, we light candles. We sit together in the living room where we read or do homework, drink warm tea, and play games. It’s not always about chatting. It’s just being together.”
“In Denmark, we stay at home more,” adds Knudsen. “We invite people to our home and create a nice dinner for friends. We have one family over at a time, rather than a large group. We have a long dinner that we prepare days before because we want to make it special. It’s intimate.”
Experiencing hygge can mean having a glass of glogg, a mulled red wine with sugar and spices like cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and cloves. It’s often paired with aebleskiver, traditional Danish pancake balls made of flour, buttermilk, butter, eggs, and cream dipped in jam or filled with whipped cream and sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Seattle is the top hygge city in the U.S., according to place-rating website Sperlings.com, which ranked four main factors: cozy weather; hygge pastimes (board games, reading books, card games, cooking, and knitting/needlework); hygge venues (coffeehouses, brewpubs, and wine bars); and the number of homes with fireplaces. Apparently, almost every home in Seattle has a fireplace!
Rate Your Hygge
If you’re wondering what your personal hygge score is, take VisitDenmark’s test at TheDanishAntidote.com, where you’ll be given options regarding how you spend your Saturday nights, together with an evaluation. Be prepared: If you are hygge-challenged, you may get the response “We have seen more hygge in a rock! You have no hygge whatsoever.”
But do not fear. You don’t have to go all the way to Copenhagen for a remedy. VisitDenmark provides you with a personalized prescription:
- Drink 250ml coffee, tea, or hot cocoa; one dose to be taken daily.
- Eat something sweet (any cake will do); take when needed.
- Light a fire or candles; at least once a week.
- Cook with family; on an empty stomach.
Add your own self-prescribed remedies such as buying some fresh-cut flowers, taking time for a meaningful conversation, or giving someone you love a hug.
Hygge is more than a word. It’s an attitude. It’s a lifestyle. It’s about being conscious and comfortably sinking into the moment where we appreciate truly simple things like good food, good drink, good atmosphere, and good people. Happy Hygge.
As a freelance writer, Cathy Kuntz finds inspiration in the wilderness, waters, and people of the West Coast. She is passionate about streamkeeping, fly-fishing, and writing personal memoirs. Cathy helps people celebrate their lives and legacies by creating unique photo memoir books. Learn more at CottageWordsmith.com.