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A short backstory

I stumbled across the term hygge as I was about to start my Ten Year Winter social simulations game at the Urgent Optimists. Curious, I went to search for its definition and ended up reading this book!

If you want to learn what it means, get a copy of this book and indulge in a new way of experiencing life, the Danish way.

Quotes from the book

Our language reflects our world. We give the things we see — things that matter — names.

Would we still feel love if we had no word for it? Of course we would. But what would the world be like if we had no word for marriage? Our words and language shape our hopes and dreams for the future — and our dreams for the future shape how we act today.

Our words and language shape our hopes and dreams for the future — and our dreams for the future shape how we act today.

…in all the work I have done within the field of happiness research, this is the point I am surest about: the best predictor of whether we are happy or not is our social relationships. It is the clearest and most reoccurring pattern I see when I look at the evidence on why some people are happier than others.

Time spent with others creates an atmosphere that is warm, relaxed, friendly, down-to-earth, close, comfortable, snug and welcoming. In many ways, it is like a good hug — but without the physical contact. It is in this situation that you can be completely relaxed and yourself. The art of hygge is therefore also the art of expanding your comfort zone to include other people.

Cuddling pets has the same effect as cuddling another person — we feel loved, warm, and safe, which are three key words in the concept of hygge.

Sourdough is basically an edible Tamagotchi.

Memories of a pleasurable event are stored in the cerebrum cortex so we won’t forget them. It may sound strange but, in a way, you could say the brain creates addictions for our survival.

When we are born, the first thing we taste is sweet breast milk. Liking sweet food is beneficial for our survival, and that is why we experience feelings of joy when eating cakes and other sugary things, and why we find it hard to stop. Our body has taught us to continue doing things that are rewarded. It’s the same thing that calls when it comes to fat and salt.

You cannot buy the right atmosphere or a sense of togetherness. You cannot hygge if you are in a hurry or stressed out, and the art of creating intimacy cannot be bought by anything but time, interest and engagement in the people around you.

Hygge is an atmosphere which is not only unimproved by spending more money on it, but rather, in some ways, the opposite.

Hygge may be bad for market capitalism, but it may prove to be very good for your personal happiness. Hygge is appreciating the simple pleasures in life and can be achieved with very little money.

Hygge is appreciating the simple pleasures in life and can be achieved with very little money.

One of our issues as adults is that we become too focused on the results of an activity. We work to earn money. We go to the gym to lose weight. We spend time with people to network and further our careers. What happened to doing something just because it’s fun?

There must be anti-hygge for hygge to be valuable. Life might seem stressful. It might seem unsafe and unfair. Life is often centered on money and social status. But life is none of these things in moments of hygge.

Cycling is not only beneficial for the individual and his or her well being and health, it’s an indicator of the degree of neighbours’ and locals’ sense of community.

…if a city is designed in a way that makes a long drive to work necessary, we harm the social health of that city. If a lot of people cycle, it’s probably an indication that you live in a healthy neighborhood.

Taste is an important element of hygge because it often involves eating something. And that something cannot be too fresh, alternative or challenging in any way.

The taste of hygge is almost always familiar, sweet and comforting. If you want to make a cup of tea more hyggelig, you add honey. If you want to make a cake more hyggelig, you add icing. And if you want your stew to be more hyggelig, you add wine.

Many sounds can be hyggelige. Actually, hygge mainly has to do with the absence of sounds, which enables you to hear even very quiet noises such as rain drops on the rood, wind blowing outside the window, the sounds of trees waving in the wind, or of wooden planks that yield when you walk on them. Also, the sounds of a person drawing, cooking or knitting could be hyggelig. Any sound of a safe environment will be the soundtrack of hygge. For example, the sound of thunder can be very hyggeligt if you are inside and feel safe; if outside, not so much.

What makes a smell hyggelig differs very much from person to person, because smells relate a situation to ones experience with that smell in the past.

One common element of all the smells of hygge is that they remind us of safety and being cared for. We use smell to sense whether something is safe to eat, but we also use it to intuit whether a place is safe and how alert we should be. The smell of hygge is the smell that tells you to put your guard down completely. The smell of cooking, the smell of a blanket you use at home, or the smell of a certain place we perceive as safe can be very hyggeligt because it reminds us of a state of mind we experienced when we felt completely safe.

Old, home-made stuff that has taken a lot of time to make is always more hyggeligt than bought and new stuff. And small things are always more hyggeligt than big things. If the slogan for the USA is “The bigger, the better,” the slogan for Denmark is “The smaller, the more hyggeligt.”

The rustic, organic surgace of something imperfect and something that has been or will be affected by age appeals to the touch of hygge. Also, the feeling of being inside something warm in a place where it is cold is very different from just being warm. It gives the feeling of being comfortable in hostile environment.

Hygge is very much about light, as we have said. Too bright is not hyggligt. But hygge is also very much about taking your time.

This can be accentuated by watching very slow movements of things, for example, gently falling snow — or aqilokoq, as the Inuits would say — or the lazy flames from an open fire. In short, slow, organic movements and dark, natural colours are hyggelige. The sight of a bright, sterile hospital or watching fast-moving vehicles on a highway is not. Hygge is dimmed, rustic and slow.

Hygge is dimmed, rustic and slow.

Hygge is about feeling safe. Hence, hygge is an indicator that you trust the ones you are with and where you are.

And the feeling of hygge is an indicator of your feeling of pleasure when someone tells you to go with your gut feeling, that you have expanded your comfort zone to include other people and feel you can be completely yourself around other people.

Several factors influence why some people and countries are happier than others — genetics, our relationships, health, income, job, sense of purpose and freedom.

One of the reasons for the high level of happiness in Denmark is the good work-life balance, which allows people to make time for family and friends.

Today, when happiness researchers analyse the common denominators among those who consider themselves happy, a pattern emerges without exception that these people have meaningful and positive social relationships. Studies also show that when individuals experience social isolation, many of the same brain regions become active that are active in the experience of physical pain.

So quality relationships impact our happiness, but the causality goes both ways. Studies suggest that having high levels of happiness leads to better social relationships. The reason may be that happiness increases our level of sociability and improves the quality of the relationships we have.

Happier people have a larger quantity and better quality of friendships and family relationships. Thus, good relationships both cause happiness and are caused by it. The studies suggest that, of all the factors that influence happiness, a sense of feeling related to those around you is very near the top of the list.

According to Robert A. Emmons, Professor in Psychology at University of California, Davis, and one of the world’s leading experts on gratitude, people who feel grateful are not only happier than those who do not but also more helpful and forgiving and less materialistic.

But hygge is about making the most of what we have in abundance: the everyday. Perhaps Benjamin Franklin said it best: “Happiness consists more in small conveniences of pleasure that occur every day than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom.”