HYGGE: An explanation from a Dane

Dr. Kenneth Stelsoe, BSc, DC
April 13, 2019

In the last year or so, I have frequently heard references to the concept behind the Danish word “Hygge” in ads, articles, news reports, cooking shows, and even talk shows. As a Dane, I do feel honoured and proud that parts of the Danish culture are making it into the rest of the world, and I certainly believe that Hygge could improve the lives of many people around the globe (Sidenote: yes “globe”! the earth is NOT flat 😂). However, being that I am born and raised in the Danish culture, I feel the concept of Hygge is misunderstood and the word is being used more as a tagline or buzzword. Therefore, I feel compelled and duty bound to explain exactly what I know it to be.

Hygge, in the Danish language, is a verb. It’s something you do. Additionally, there is also an adjective version of the word which is called “Hyggelig”. If you Google translate Hygge, you get the English word “Fun” – which Hygge CAN be, but it’s not a good translation at all. Just like a “car” can be “red”, it doesn’t mean that the word “red” means “car”. Now, if you search for a definition of Hygge in an encyclopedia, you get this: “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture)”. Often, I hear it referred to as “togetherness”, but Hygge, in reality, doesn’t have to depend on the company of other people. So although these descriptions are somewhat close, they simply do not hit the mark.

For Danes, Hygge is a mindset – a feeling – a state of your personal energy. Hygge brings with it a relaxed calmness. It can be achieved together with a loved one, with a large group of friends, or even alone. It’s about enjoying the moment as if there is no past and no future – just the very present moment of now where you lose the sense of time and place. It’s a way to recharge your physical, mental and emotional energy. It’s a “time-out” from chores, work and responsibilities, where nothing but Hygge matters. Although ironically, you may even be able to achieve it while working or doing chores. I do think that most of you will recognize the feeling of Hygge. You may even be doing it deliberately, just without having defined it with a specific word.

Therefore, instead of an exact translation or concise definition, perhaps it will be better understood by describing situations or moments that are “Hyggelig” for me - where I achieve Hygge.

Food, drinks and snacks are often part of these moments, but they are not essential. They can add to Hygge – but Hygge can also add value back to them. I have seen ads claiming that a soup is “Hygge Approved”. Enjoying a bowl of delicious soup can certainly be part of a Hyggelig moment, but it can’t be Hyggelig in itself. The soup may even taste better when enjoyed in a moment of Hygge than it does if ingested for nutritional purposes only. Just like popcorn seems to taste a bit better when shared with a date at the cinema.

Restaurants in Denmark will add an experience of Hygge to their food with the lighting, interior design, and music. Homes are designed and decorated with Hygge in mind. It includes heating, lighting, sound or windows with a view of the outside. Scandinavian kitchens are known for being functional, but they also aim to be Hyggelig by encouraging home cooking, hanging out together in the kitchen with everyone cooking together or perhaps having a child doing homework at the kitchen counter island.

I would love to know what YOUR personal favorite of Hygge is. What makes you achieve Hygge? I challenge you to notice these moments in life and consciously try to create them whenever possible. Let it be part of your self love and master the art of Hygge the way, we, Danes do.

P.S. Hygge has now been added to the Oxford Dictionaries, so I guess it is officially an English word too.

Sincerely in health,
Dr. Kenneth Stelsoe, BSc, DC
Owner / Chiropractor / "Proud Dane"

* Image by 5688709 from Pixabay
** Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay