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What the World’s Happiest People taught me about savoring life……

Updated: Jan 9

Hygge: (HOO-gah) The Danish philosophy of comfort, togetherness, and well-being.

Tim and I just returned from a fabulous trip to Scandinavia and Northern Europe. It was our first time visiting Copenhagen, Denmark. Within hours of our arrival there, we noticed a few things.

  1. Everyone in Denmark is 8 feet tall. And gorgeous. And rides a bike.

  2. Speaking of bikes, stay out of the bike lane! The bike lane is the sacred domain for those on 2 or 3 wheels. And only for them.

  3. People are… well, nice.

  • They hold the door for us, and wave us on in front of them. Unless, of course, we’re in the bike path. In which case we walk at our own risk.

  • They look us in the eye and nod, or smile.

  • They greet us with a “hej” which, conveniently for us, sounds exactly like “hi”.

We are smitten.

It doesn’t surprise us that Denmark consistently ranks in the top 3 Happiest nations in the world, according to the world happiness report. There are good reasons for this - healthy life expectancy, GDP per capita, social support, a highly educated population, low corruption, strong cultural values of generosity in a community where people look after each other. Apparently, all of this more than makes up for 7 months of winter and 18-hour long nights in December.

As we explore Copenhagen’s delights and get to know its people, we discover a concept that is part of the fabric of every Dane, and core to their sense of happiness and well-being: hygge, pronounced HOO-gah. We first noticed the words printed on T-shirts, socks, and stuffed moose toys in the souvenir shops. We were intrigued. What’s this hygge all about any way?

  • Anne-Sophie, our server at our favorite seafood restaurant, helps us to understand the Danish concept of Hygge. “Hygge is when you’ve had a long day and you come home and put on your comfy clothes and make a cup of hot chocolate and listen to the rain against the window panes.”

  • Peter, our walking tour guide, describes it a little differently. “Hygge is meeting with friends for a hike, then sharing dinner and laughing around the campfire.

  • Christian, our hotel concierge, explains that turning the technology off, dimming the lights and hanging out with a good book or friends is the perfect way to Hygge.

Hygge can be a noun, a verb, or an adjective. The Danes use it in all kinds of contexts, like:

“I can’t go out tonight. I’m Hygge-ing” (HOOG-ing.)

“Friday evening was so hyggelig.” (HOO-gah like)

“These wooly socks are hyggesokker.” (HOO-gah socks. Yep, it’s a thing.)

It’s a very versatile concept. Plus it’s just fun to say.

“Hygge” says Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, “is a defining feature of our cultural identity and an integral part of the national DNA.” In other words, what freedom is to Americans. . . hygge is to Danes.” And Danes are considered among the happiness people on the planet.

In his book,"The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living", Wiking shares the ten principles of the Hygge - Atmosphere, Presence, Pleasure, Equality, Gratitude, Harmony, Comfort, Truce, Togetherness and Shelter.

Hygge is a conscious, intentional creation of coziness and well-being

while savoring the simple things in life.

We Americans take a certain pride in our breathless, frenetic pace and get ‘er done mindset. And, while that feeling can be kind of addictive, it’s also exhausting. Let’s face it, none of us make our best decisions from a hectic, overburdened mind. Can we strike a balance and learn something from the World’s Happiest People?

Let’s say you’ve been feeling a little stressed or overwhelmed with life recently. How do you bring some Hygge into your life?

Unplug. Remember those snow days when you were a kid? You hung out and played board games in your jammies all day. Maybe took a nap under a soft, warm blanket. Mom made hot chocolate. That’s Hygge at it’s best. Put away the laptop, phone and devices for a few hours. Hygge is definitely low-tech.

Focus on Relaxing activities -Read books. Chat with friends. Cuddle up with a loved one and watch a relaxing move. Preferably a classic- a simple, low-stimulus one without bombs and firearms going off every ten seconds. Choose one that you know will make you feel relaxed. Petting your dog or cat while you snuggle earns you extra hygge-points.

Soft music and lighting - Dim the lights. And light the candles. The more, the better. Little white twinkly lights? Also good. Anything but fluorescent.

Flowers and scents - the Danes, known for their clean aesthetics and beautiful design, understand the power of fragrance. Light scented candles, or even pop in a yummy, clean-smelling air freshener. Snip a few fresh blooms from your garden, or pick some up at the store while shopping for groceries. Flowers will brighten your day. And your life.

Cozy up - this is essential. The best Hyggers know there is no shame in your favorite sweatpants and sweaters, cozy blankets and socks. The Danes love their warm, woolen socks. Pile on all the comfortable, cozy layers for hygge-ing at its best.

Savor your comfort foods - pop a bowl of fresh, hot popcorn, simmer your favorite soup or stew on the stovetop, sip hot tea, bake some warm chocolate chip cookies. Eat them mindfully. Hygge is about savoring the present moment. It’s not an excuse to binge.

The key to hygge is that it’s a conscious and intentional creation of comfort by indulging in simple pleasures. The Danish look for opportunities and schedule time for Hygge every day by creating a comforting environment and savoring the small things that matter.

They don’t wait until they are super stressed to schedule some “me-time”.

It’s as much a part of their daily routine as breathing, eating or brushing their teeth.

What can you do to intentionally bring a little more hygge into your daily life?

“It isn’t the big pleasures that count the most. It’s making a

great deal out of the little ones.” - Jean Webster

Know someone who could use a lift? Please share!

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