What is Hygge? Explaining the Unexplainable

It seems that any time a Dane is asked on camera, “Why are Danes so Happy?” the concept of Hygge arises. Hygge is a word that no one seems to be able to directly translate into any other language. On multiple occasions I have heard it being explained as “a cozy atmosphere.” Yet, any Dane will tell you that it means so much more than that. So instead of just letting it be with those three insufficient words, I am going to try to explain what it means through a brief theory of mine.

If you have ever experienced a Scandinavian winter, I think the first adjective you would use to describe it would be “Dark.” At the time of the winter solstice in 2013, Copenhagen got just 7 hours of daylight. With the overcast winter skies, we weren’t allowed much time in the sun, and here in Copenhagen we have it easy compared to northern Scandinavia. Even with the cheery holiday season, it can get a little depressing. But regardless of this, people have settled in Scandinavia for thousands of years. Why would they suffer through this annual cold and darkness?

That’s where I believe Hygge originates. Hygge is, at its essence, the feeling of warding off the dark and cold through the light and love of those around you.

Of course since the origin of the feeling, the word assigned to it has evolved over themillennia to become an adjective compared to a feeling, like that of a cozy atmosphere, candle lit dinners with family and friends, etc. Scandinavians create situations of Hygge, to induce the actual feeling of Hygge.

If I’ve lost you a little bit, let me clarify this using Thomas “Scandinavia’s Laughter Guru” Flindt’s ideology as a comparison.

Happy LemonsFlindt says that by embracing laughter, you will in turn become happier and breed success. This idea is much like how faking a smile will inevitably cause an authentic smile and feelings of joy. Scandinavians have created the physical manifestation of Hygge, through the cozy atmospheres, to induce the authentic feeling of Hygge.

If you think I’ve cracked the code on Hygge, or completely missed the mark, please comment below. I’d love to hear all the theories out there of how Hygge came to be.

 Images sourced from here

Philip Trampe

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12 thoughts on “What is Hygge? Explaining the Unexplainable

  1. I like this description by author Helen Dyrbye: “It is the art of creating intimacy: a sense of comradeship, conviviality and contentment rolled into one.” Here is a nice article on it as well: http://www.mnn.com/family/family-activities/blogs/how-hygge-can-help-you-get-through-winter

  2. Miriam Ryan says:

    Dear Phil

    You may be surprised to learn that the use of ”gezelligheid” in Dutch is almost identical to ”hygge”, and is used with the same regularity and in the same context. However, this may not be readily apparent in the large cities, as it is most prevalent
    in homogenous areas.

    Some believe there is a comparison with “gemütlichkeit” in German but this is not entirely accurate – “hygge” is a closer translation in the context of how we use “gezelligheid”.

    If you are ever in The Netherlands, you can be assured you will be greeted with a warm smile whenever you use this word, although foreigners often say it sounds like a throat disease; so it may take some practice!

    Venlig hilsen


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