Words & images by: Mia Robertson
The Danes are considered some of the happiest people on Earth, and we can’t talk about the levels of happiness in Denmark without giving some credit to their culture of Hygge.
The word Hygge (pronounced hyoo-gah) loosely translates to the word ‘cosy’ in English. But, rather than thinking of it as a word, it’s better to understand hygge as an idea, a feeling, or a practice. The Cambridge dictionary defines it as ‘feeling comfortable and cosy whilst being surrounded by people you love’. While there are many different interpretations, in the book ‘The Year of Living Danishly’, Helen Russel describes it as “taking pleasure in the presence of gentle, soothing things”.
It is — in essence — a practice of slow living. From enjoying a cup of gløgg with friends on a cold winter night, to making time to appreciate a cup of coffee in the morning — Hygge is a way of stopping to enjoy life’s small pleasures.
The history of Hygge ironically comes from an old Norwegian word. Regardless, the Danes have truly made it their own. The word officially dates back to the early 1800’s, but the old Norse language used a similar word that roughly translated to ‘protection from the outside world’. This is also a great way to conceptualise the idea of Hygge; the act of putting one’s stressors from the outside world aside, to take part in activities that are enriching for the soul.
Denmark is known to be a very cohesive community that values equality and solidarity. Hygge reflects these wider values as it places a positive emphasis on taking time for yourself, to check in on others, and to have dedicated time for enrichment and rejuvenation.
How to ‘Practise’ Hygge
The practice of Hygge can be seen year round, but it truly comes to life in the Danish wintertime. Cold, dark days are often when Hygge is needed most.
It emphasises informal and wholesome time spent with family and friends doing a range of activities, often revolving around food and drink.
One important aspect of Hygge is the use of candles. Lighting up living rooms, bars, restaurants and shops, candles are a way to bring a cosy energy to shared spaces, when people spend the dark evenings together.
My personal experience of Hygge, whilst on exchange in Copenhagen last semester, was insightful. It runs so deeply within Danish culture that it is hard to ignore the magic of it.
My Danish classmates emphasised how important Hygge is to get through the winter, which starkly contrasts to our winters here in Melbourne. The harsh weather conditions mean that they spend lots of time indoors; this creates the perfect time and atmosphere to practise Hygge with others.
Cooking with loved ones is another great way to take some time out of your day to practise Hygge. Try a recipe for Danish ‘Kanelsnegle’ if you want to have a go at Hygge yourself.
I am so grateful for my experience in Denmark, and especially being able to witness the Hygge culture firsthand. I found it was a part of my exchange experience that allowed me to really connect with my fellow peers, and made my time all the more special and memorable.