What’s hygge and how do you find it?

Browsing for things for #joshandkatebuildahouse has become a favorite pastime of mine this winter. Though I’m generally anxiety ridden about the actual process of home building, the parts I like thus far include filling up Pinterest boards with room ideas, and generating an Amazon wish list called “Things for the Laack Nest,” which provides much inspiration for my continual new year’s resolution of saving money now so I can spend all the monies come move in day late 2019. As I’ve sifted through trends and earmarked products (many of which I realize may not be trends in another 11 months!), one word keeps reappearing over and over and over again: hygge.

hygge_The first time I saw this word my mind skipped over to our local grocery store, Hy-vee. The two are, unsurprisingly, not related! In fact, hygge doesn’t even rhyme with Hy-vee. Pronounced “hue-gah,” hygge is a Danish word referring to the feeling of a moment that is particularly charming, cozy, or special. Foreign languages are wonderfully brilliant in having words that capture specific moments layered with feeling and emotion. Take, for example, the Georgian word “Shemomedjamo” which means the feeling of regret after you’ve had a meal that’s so good you couldn’t stop eating, but have now over indulged to the point of discomfort. Somehow shemomedjamo seems more apt and poetic than “stuffed.”

But back to hygge. Some believe the word hygge evolved from the Old Norse word hugr, which became hygga, meaning to hug. Thus, to have hygge in your home would be like returning to a warm embrace every night. The Collins English Dictionary defines hygge as, “the concept of creating cozy and convivial atmospheres that promote well-being.” (For those of you wondering, the Collins English dictionary defines convivial as, “pleasant, friendly, and relaxed.”😉) What do all of these etymologies and definitions have in common, they all point towards hygge being something that the Danes got on board with a long time ago, and towards something that we should want in our own homes and lives. Friendly…relaxed…pleasant…warm…hugs…check, check, check, check, and check.

So how do you get it?

Well according to Amazon, Target, and Pinterest you can buy it! Amazon has a hygge shop! So go online, pick a few curated items, (generally speaking: chunky blankets, white linens, Scandinavian furniture pieces, and succulents) and in three to five business days…two if you’re a Prime member!…a box of hygge will arrive at your house. Sprinkle these items liberally throughout your living space and watch as instant Danish coziness and karma seep into your life!

Take your pick and click!

If that sounds utterly ridiculous, it’s because it is. And because it’s not quite that simple, all the reading I did about hygge led me to the conclusion that, as a culture in general, Americans will want a lot of hygge, and we will be very bad at acquiring it! That’s because at its heart, hygge is not based on a certain product line or design style. Hygge is a state of mind. The actual concept does not translate well into English, so marketers have taken the idea of “coziness” and “comfort” and assigned it to products that they believed inspire those feelings. But true hygge is about the things that bring you those feelings.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the stark, Scandinavian design style, so bringing those things into my home because someone else has labeled them “hygge” will not actually create any comfort or coziness for me at all. Nor does it mean that I can’t have hygge because I don’t like a certain style. The excellent blog ‘Hygge House‘ put it best this way:

Hygge (or to be “hyggeligt”) doesn’t require learning “how to”, adopting it as a lifestyle or buying anything. It’s not a thing and anyone telling you different either doesn’t understand it or is literally trying to sell you something that has nothing to do with the concept. You can’t buy a ‘hygge living room’ and there’s no ‘hygge foods’ to eat. It literally only requires consciousness, a certain slowness, and the ability to not just be present – but recognize and enjoy the present. That’s why so many people distill ‘hygge’ down to being a ‘feeling’ – because if you don’t feel hygge, you probably aren’t using the word right.

Which is why, as a whole, I believe the American culture is not intrinsically suited to hygge…thought we certainly could be if we were willing to pay attention to our own wants and desires outside of the breakneck speech our society move at! Hygge requires mindfulness and a certain relaxed consciousness that we rarely slow down enough to find. Let me paint you a picture…

Image may contain: sky, bridge, plant and outdoorThe first time Josh and I went to Europe, we were gobsmacked. Though we were on vacation and therefore on our own time and schedule, it felt like the pace of normal, everyday life in the areas we were staying, didn’t move much faster or with more frenzy then we did just moseying the streets. We got up around 9:00am, about the same time the construction workers redoing the plaster facade on the building next to our apartment showed up to begin their day. We napped on the rocks in the harbor in the afternoon next to restaurant owners who had closed up shop after the lunch rush to enjoy an afternoon siesta. We spent five hours having dinner at a table overlooking the ocean and only saw our waiter upon request when he would come to bring another bottle of wine, offer us another course off the menu, or come to clear our plates. We commented on our second or third night that they had mastered the tourism industry, but were quickly corrected by the locals that it wasn’t so much about putting on a show for tourists, as it was about forcing tourists to live life at the pace of the world around them. A pace that felt incredibly luxurious on vacation because it was so different from our own.

Have you ever tried to sit in a restaurant for five hours in the United States? There are places you can pull it off, but on the whole, you’ll likely end up feeling rather uncomfortable as your server checks in every 15-20 minutes to see if there’s anything else you want or if you’ve taken care of the check.

In our travels we have stayed in some beautiful hotels and homes, and some that left something to be desired, but if I had to choose just one, it would be the bed and breakfast we found in Florence. Tucked down a quaint side street off a boisterous piazza, up an old, worn, and richly stained staircase, and through a set of towering double doors was the most perfectly hygge space I’ve ever stepped foot in. If I think back through the details of it, there were plenty of quirks and features that design-wise I would not bring into my own home. The queen bed was two twin mattresses pushed together as one. The bathroom was nothing spectacular, tiled in coral and ivory. The picture can’t do it close to justice. It looks like another nice but unspectacular European guest room. But the feeling in that space was perfect. Noise filtered in through the open shutters from the musicians and diners on the street; the curtains drifted lazily in the Italian breeze; the high ceiling was accented with wood beams original to the building; it felt old, and new, and European, and cozy, and though I barely spoke a word of Italian and fumbled through our check-in like a true tourist, I felt instantly at home in the space.


florence 2

That’s what hygge should be…the feeling of being instantly at home somewhere. The pace feels right; the ambiance feels right. There is a heightened awareness of how good, intimate, friendly, comfortable, and easy the moment is. Hygge feels completely counter to American culture because it’s not a thing to tack down. It’s not a candle you can buy. It’s not a paint color you can roll on. It’s not a meal service kit that shows up on your doorstep. It’s not a fad diet, or a self-help book, or a trendy podcast. It’s an awareness that requires mindfulness, self-reflection, and intentionality.

By creating simple rituals without effort {such as brewing real tea with a little china cup every evening to stopping at the flower shop every week} the Danes see both the domestic and personal life as an art form and not every drudgery to get away from. They incorporate hygge into their daily life so it becomes a natural extension rather than a forced and stressful event.

So whether it’s making coffee a verb by creating a ritual of making it every morning to a cosy evening in with friends where you’re just enjoying each others company to the simple act of lighting a candle with every meal, hygge is just about being aware of a good moment.

So how can you find it? How can I make sure my new home has it? By stop trying to make it something it’s not! Stop reading lists. Stop buying white chunky knit blankets and heavy wool socks. Make an effort to get outside, turn off your phone, sit with a cup of coffee and a good book, and meet friends for dinner. Or, invite people into your home. Prepare a meal. Share conversations. Get lost in the aromas of the food, the soundtrack of laughter and clinking silverware and glasses. Open yourself to the pleasure of a simple moment: the feeling of returning home to your family each night; the allure of a hot shower; the indescribable joy of taking your heels, tie, or bra off at the end of a long day! Take time to notice. Take time to enjoy. Take time for yourself.

Pour that glass of wine. Sip it slowly. Stop reading this blog. Turn off your phone. Hygge.


Published by Kate

A former Wisconsinite, Kate now resides in southeast Minnesota with her husband where she teaches high school English and theater. She recently completed her master's degree in learning design and technology, and continues to study and advocate for arts integration in the classroom. A recipient of the RISE America grant for high school theater, Kate is working to innovate and expand theater opportunities for the students at PIHS. An avid distance runner, concert pianist, and want-to-be wine aficionado, Kate's blog "ink." is a passion project, embodying all the best parts of life: friends, food, wine, thoughtful conversation, style, and sass!

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