We could all use a little more hygge

Perhaps “hygge” is a term you haven’t heard. I think you soon will. A lot.

It’s pronounced “hoo-gah,” which is sort of like “uff-dah,” but happier.

Hygge is a Danish word and may explain why Denmark is always high on the list of the world’s happiest countries. The term is defined in a variety of ways. I like them all, but the simplest is “a quality of comfort, coziness and conviviality.” It’s not about grand gestures; it’s about embracing the tender moments.

I predict the word will start to spread generously through neighborhoods and communities. It will be a good thing. We will talk about our personal experience with hygge over mugs of steaming morning coffee and at spontaneously held dinner parties. The person who mentions it first will be met with a curious smile and a welcoming nod. Talking about hygge with family or a group of friends will prompt feelings of self-satisfaction and well-being.

Maybe you are thinking “Huh!” or maybe “Hmmm.” And I respond, “Who does not want more conviviality in their life — let alone more tender moments and daily comforts?”

Hygge is extremely versatile. It can be used as an adjective, a verb, a noun — even a compound noun. To make this more real, think of the word “hyggebukser,” which is apparently a soft, loose-fitting pair of pants you would perhaps never wear in public but like to put on immediately after arriving home at the end of a long day.

Here is another definition, taken from “The Book of Hygge” by Louisa Thomsen Brits. She describes it as “a quality of presence and an experience of belonging and togetherness … a universal feeling of being warm, safe, comforted and sheltered.” It “reminds us to slow down, to dwell and savor rather than rush and spend.”

There’s more to her description. She wrote an entire book about the word, after all. Read it slowly — it has the potential to change the way you feel about your day and what you do with it. As this author sees it, hygge is about “being, not having.” Hygge “anchors and affirms us, give us courage and consolation.” To hygge is to “invite intimacy and connection … to the moment and to each other.”

The word is said to have no direct English translation — although “cozy” comes close. If you have ever curled up in a chair with a good book on a rainy afternoon or walked slowly, arm in arm with a favorite friend, you have experienced hygge without even realizing it. I think you will find that hygge and the feeling of quiet satisfaction it represents already exists in your life — you may just want to be open to having it in greater abundance. Let it be so.

— Sharon Johnson is an Oregon State University associate professor emeritus and the executive director of Age-Friendly Innovators Inc. She can be reached at Sharon@agefriendlyinnnovators.org

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