What is hygge? Why should anyone care what it means?
In Denmark, hygge is not just an excuse to eat pastries, drink hot beverages, or completely overhaul one’s decorating scheme. At the heart of it, the Danish philosophy of hygge is about simplicity and joy, and less about commercial items or trends. A couple of years ago, hygge quickly took flight as a new interior design fad and was promptly associated with cozy interior design, minimalism, and consumerism.
Looking up the term “hygge” on either Instagram or Pinterest results in a plethora of modern and chic-styled homes, as well as people in comfy sweaters and wool socks. Although these pictures may be aesthetically pleasing, these images do not articulate what hygge truly is. These images often conflate the fun or the joy of decorating and having a beautiful space with hygge’s true meaning. While having a cozy, functional home is a way of achieving hygge, and although comfortable clothes can help bring that warm, content feeling that is hygge, hygge is more than material goods. What’s more, people do not have to buy things to experience the feeling of hygge.
So if it is not just about decorating and lounging in comfortable clothes, what is hygge all about? How does one go about experiencing hygge?
To put it as parsimoniously as possible, hygge draws attention to the enjoyment of the everyday. It encourages individuals to be present and intentional, and ultimately to enjoy small pleasures. This school of thought in several ways demonstrates that less can indeed be more. It may seem very contradictory that in popular culture hygge has been mischaracterized and made out to be almost exclusively about items, and less about achieving authentic happiness- often with the help of what one already possesses or what is immediately around them. Hygge cannot be bought because it is more about an approach to life that can maximize happiness. However, that is not to discourage people from purchasing things for themselves and their homes.
It is all about balance, and harmony.
One can achieve hygge in a variety of ways, such as by spending an evening with friends indoors, cooking a hearty meal, playing a board game with someone you love, or reading a book in your favorite space. Hygge can happen while one is alone, but it usually happens around others, our friends, and loved ones. Those who we feel closest to. A big party where several people do not know each other is not hyggeligt. Hygge is best experienced in small gatherings where everyone can be a part of the conversation.
Additionally, while anyone can share a meal, that does not necessarily mean one is experiencing hygge. For example, a meal shared between individuals who never once engage in conversation and who instead prefer the company of their smartphones is not hyggeligt. However, a meal shared between individuals who are present with one another and actively engaged is hyggeligt. That being said, decreasing television/smartphone screen time is an excellent way to begin slowly incorporating more hygge into your life.
As mentioned previously, games can be a fun way to experience hygge. Although video games can be utilized, using more tactile activities such as Scrabble, UNO, or Monopoly may be preferred. Being able to use one’s hands and face one another while playing can help individuals feel closer to one another. For that reason, arts and crafts are another lovely way to bring people together and share hygge. So long as everyone is engaged and present and taking the time to truly enjoy themselves, hygge is achievable.
While hygge is not really about trendy design ideas or about shopping at Ikea, making little adjustments to one’s living space can help those seeking to feel more everyday joy and calm. Moving things around in a room can make the space feel brand new and different. Sorting out items that one no longer needs or wants is an excellent way to declutter as well as live more simply, thus encouraging that cozy, tranquil hygge feeling.
Donating items that are no longer used not only feels good but is also a way to serve the community where you live. Instead of organizing a yard sale and spending the day organizing, packing, and unpacking, donating items is a faster way to remove them from the home and may go to someone who would find joy in the item you donated, hopefully spreading some hygge magic their way, too.
Another popular misconception about this Danish philosophy is the idea that hygge can only be achieved through minimalism. However this is untrue and thankfully so, for yours truly is not a minimalist. Even though hygge is not about materialism, it does not imply that belongings cannot bring joy.
Finding joy in a beloved stuffed animal, blanket, book, or photo frame can also bring that simple happiness in the every day that hygge so enthusiastically advocates for. One does not need to suddenly part with all of one’s most precious mementos and belongings because hygge is not about stuff at all. If those belongings bring comfort and light into one’s life then, by all means, hang on to your beloved treasures. Their presence can bring you hygge and that is a wonderful thing.
Similarly, it may also be the case that new items you discover bring you a feeling of happiness. For those who do feel inclined to incorporate some redecorating in their introduction to hygge, obtaining only items that bring you lasting happiness is recommended, that way you can experience the fun of decorating while maintaining the intention behind what you are doing.
Buying all the latest and newest materials is not necessarily hygge lift if it is done solely because one associates the item with status rather than with pure joy. Get creative and inspired! The key is surrounding oneself only with items one truly love and appreciate. Using handmade decorations, including those made by friends and family is also another way to decorate with intention and add a nice homey feel.
Overall, hygge is a Danish word and way of life with a central focus on mindful living and the enjoyment of simple pleasures. Hygge is the warm contentment one feels when reading a book in their favorite corner of the room, preparing a delicious meal, or spending an intimate evening with the people one loves. Many people mistake hygge to be just a minimalistic trend, or a phrase referring to Scandinavian design techniques, but in fact, hygge is so much more. Hygge reminds us to see the beauty in each day and to take the time to be present and truly alive.
The philosophy of hygge is simple and yet so radical. Modern living encourages constant production while also endorsing the belief that to slow down and just be is somehow lazy or wrong. Hygge challenges these beliefs and reminds us that enjoying life’s moments and incorporating mindfulness/intention into our lives can help us achieve lasting happiness. Whether you experience hygge through cozy family movie nights, arts and crafts, or even activities you enjoy alone, the joy that these times bring is what matters most.
References: “The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well” by Mike Wiking
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