I crave small, cozy places and amber-lit spaces. I swoon over the soul-fulfilling ambience of food and drinks, laughter and joy—shared with mindfully-present people I love.
But I had no idea this deep-rooted affinity for authentic conversation—and coziness of the soul—had a name.
Hygge. (pronounced hue-gah)
It’s Danish, and it’s the concept of being present … of creating a warm, comfortable atmosphere that makes us feel rooted and connected. It’s about our behavior towards one another, and the coziness and shelter found through reciprocal giving and receiving. It’s the art of creating intimacy, camaraderie and contentment all in one—and it often occurs around a candlelit table, while sharing good food, good drinks and good conversation.
Hygge nourishes the soul, and is presumably the #1 reason Danes are considered the happiest people in the world. You heard me—the happiest people in the WORLD.
Before you turn into a 2nd grader and start making faces behind the Danes’ backs and whine-chanting, “Woo-hoo, I’m Danish and I’m the happiest person who ever freakin’ lived,” you need a few facts. Scandinavians experience some of the darkest winters in the world. They are accustomed to long, cold months, where the sun emerges for a few lonesome hours a day. Just reading that will lead half of the U.S. population to a Seasonal Affective Disorder diagnosis.
Yet, people have settled in Scandinavia for thousands of years—essentially choosing to “suffer” through darkness and cold. Why?
“Hygge is, at its essence, the feeling of warding off the dark and cold through the light and love of those around you,” says Philip Trampe.
From hot tea, cocoa and wine … to candles, crackling fires and conversation, it’s the art of creating a place where people can lay the hustle aside, while adding another log to the fire, allowing the candle wax to run and absorbing tranquility—without distractions or the noise of the outside world.
And while no other language has a direct translation, words like coziness, security, comfort, fellowship, simpleness and living well are often used to describe the idea of hygge.
Side Note: Of the many attributes of hygge, there is one common—dominant, prominent—thread. Candles. Always candles. In windows, on tables, on stairs, with every meal (even breakfast). Danes feel that lit candles dispel the gloom and defy the long dark hours of winter. They believe there is no distinction between time worthy of candlelight or not. The warm, signature glow is at the core of hygge.
In outlining the components of hygge, have you noticed the exclusion of smart phones, TV, drama, heated debates and hurried schedules? Yeah, Danish people don’t partake in the glorification of busy. #blessthem
Hygge is all about celebrating reality, being present and mindfully enjoying the moment with good people, in a warm setting.
But let’s not gloss over “celebrating reality.”
I’ll tell you what that means to me—someone who is not Danish, not living in Denmark and not in the middle of a very dark winter.
It means being in a cozy space with people I love and people who love me; people who want the best from and see the best in each other; people who are too busy being happy for and proud of each other to feel competitive or threatened. It’s us celebrating life’s victories—getting raises, getting the baby to sleep all night, getting better at life—because through those wins, and our shared affection, we all feel lifted. It means being with people free of motives and full of a desire to share in daily joy, good news, successes and answered prayers; people who enjoy talking about pop culture, but also like talking about gratitude, the absolute hilarity of life, acting better, living longer and loving stronger.
It means laughing; because we know that a good, hearty, lose-your-mind-laugh-fest—that builds and spreads and ends in a blinding, breathless pounding on the table—adds a full 365 days to our lives. A mind lost in laughter finds stress healed, anxiety deadened and worry abated. Shared laughter pumps hope into our cells and creates wellness, memories and love.
My idea of hygge also means … a second helping and another round, as the candles burn down a little more. It’s not about focusing on rotten people, destructive conspiracy theories, unspeakable tragedies or overly partisan politics; it’s ensuring that after the deluge of negative news and Debbie Downers all week, we’ll take an evening and let the good stuff in. We’ll allow the intrigue of life to nourish our minds and hearts—not pretending everything is good and right, but making sure all the things that are good and right take center stage: a child’s good week at school, a nephew’s home run, a friend’s kid finally asking his crush out (and her saying yes), a project at work that turned out better than you hoped, a loved one’s answered prayer, a parent’s successful transition into retirement (and a fun conversation on why they deserve it), your friends who worked out the problems in their marriage and are stronger than ever, your friends who couldn’t work it out but have successfully put their children first. I want to talk about Heaven and grace and books and why babies are really just tiny drunk people.
If you’re thinking this sounds great, but isn’t realistic, I have a theory. Your circle is too wide. If you’re having trouble imagining being surrounded by people you can do this with, your circle is too wide. The unworthy people you’ve let in are making it impossible for you to envision hygge. Your “friend” who instigates, your “friend” who sees the negative in everything (and if unable to find it, creates it), your “friend” who only wants the best for you as long as it’s not better than hers, your “friend” who may or may not take up for you when given a chance.
I learned a long time ago that I’m happy with quality over quantity—in all facets of life—but especially with my inner circle. I’m meticulous and unwavering in choosing the people I truly let in. That leaves me with a small, loyal, trustworthy and wonderfully fulfilling inner circle to whom I’m extremely devoted and who faithfully love me back.
We’re talking about inner circles here, not regular everyday friends and acquaintances; it’s not rocket science, so don’t panic. I’d just encourage you to be very judicious with whom you surround yourself, and get comfortable with the fact that you are not obligated to include anyone in your inner circle who doesn’t feel right to you.
Side Note: I have far too much to say on the topic of inner circles and eliminating toxic people from your life for a side note, so perhaps we’ll revisit this. But I will say that toxicity isn’t usually anything overtly evil; it’s typically very personal and subjective—meaning, a lot of times, it’s just you “knowing” someone isn’t healthy for you. If you’re confused and wondering if you have a toxic friend, then just know this much … if you have a friend who competes with you (in life, not in Trivia Crack) … that’s not a good sign. A competitive dynamic overrides a supportive friendship—and you’re never going to alter the actuality of that. So once you identify this issue, you need to know that it’s absolutely and unequivocally OK for you to shift gears and change lanes. I implore you to not give toxic people—or people on the periphery of your inner circle—access to your life. Again, we’re not talking about being cruel or never conversing—we’re talking about access to the inner workings and private, personal parts of your life. Those areas are for people who truly love and protect you.
Imagining the comfort and security of hygge forces you to think about who, in your life, would fit into that environment. Knowing it’s a warm atmosphere and a time to enjoy the good things in life, with good people—who do you want with you? I hope you can name a few. My family and friends are at my table. All are eating, some are drinking, a few are talking and a few are listening, and most—thank goodness—are laughing.