The concept of “hygge” is integral to Danes’ lifestyle, reflecting a special kind of coziness that makes people feel content. The word recently attracted a burst of international attention when it became a finalist for the Oxford Dictionaries’ 2016 word of the year (only to be beaten out by the much less endearing word, “post-truth”). Hygge is nonetheless an officially accepted word in major English, if not American, dictionaries, confirming it as a foreign word that defies translation into the English language. The Oxford Dictionaries sums it up as “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture).”
The trail of hygge (adjective in Danish: hyggelig) dates back hundreds of years. The Norwegian word “hygga” was used as long ago as the 1500s, when it meant to console or comfort, and “hug” in English shares the same root. Danes have long embraced the concept as reflecting a pleasant and comfortable mood, whether alone or with friendly people, often helped along by candlelight, alcohol, an attractive environment and a willingness to “hang out.”
Hygge has recently generated a flurry of media interest in Europe and the U.S. and is the topic of at least six books released this year. Perhaps the attention to hygge comes in the wake of Denmark’s repeatedly high global ranking on the “happiness scale,” an annual survey to identify the happiest populations in the world. Hygge might well play a role. The U.K. Daily Mail gives examples of when it sets the mood: “It is sitting round a friendly dinner table, bathed in the yellow glow of candlelight; it is curling up with a good book and a cup of tea in a corner; it is going for a winter walk along a beach; it is having coffee and cake as the afternoon light fades; it is snuggling under a blanket watching a film; it is sitting round a bonfire with friends in comfortable silence,” and so on. But hygge is not just a short-day, cold-weather exercise – it can thrive at outdoor picnics during long summer evenings, chatting on the beach at sunset, strolling past in Tivoli Garden fairy lights and sitting with chatty strangers on Copenhagen streets. It’s easy to create – everyone should try, wherever they are!
Painting (excerpt) by Wilhelm Bendz in 1828, titled “Gathering of smokers.” 1828. At Carlberg Glyptoteck, Copenhagen.
Oxford Dictionaries – definition of hygge
The Daily Mail article about hygge 3 Sep 2016
The New Yorker article about hygge, 18 Dec 2016