As a Scandinavian, it is hard to understand when something that is so intrinsic to your culture becomes pop culture. So what exactly makes Hygge (in Danish) or Lagom (in Swedish) so amazing, and how can you achieve it?
You may have seen the series of cute little books on Hygge and Lagom at airports or book stores. The mainstream, capitalised version of Hygge that American caompanies, more than others, are trying to use to market their products, is a lie.
The real Hygge is this.
Hygge can’t be bought. It is a soft version of a Nirvana-like mentality, and it means cosiness, essentially, but there is an aspect to it that implies more. It implies certain scents, temperatures, times of day, and attitudes that bring you warm shivers. It’s not only about the feeling of oneself being cozy and warm, it’s a feeling of vibing with others, and feeling good together. It is really not an easily achievable thing, but a feeling culminated over years of practice and dedication to finding inner peace.
Part of Hygge is bringing others in, and making room for everyone, so it speaks volumes about what a healthy society perhaps should be like. In many ways, Scandinavians fail to really embody the Hygge for more than just an hour a day or during the weekend, and fail to recognise that inclusivity is part of it, because our everyday lives are so focused and intense, so we can come across as exclusive and ostracising to other cultures.
The truth is that we don’t always follow Hygge in everything we do, we retreat to it when things become too much for us, or get out of hand, but we always come back to it. It is a safe space, arguably instrumental to mental health.
We make time during work breaks to be social and Hygge (yes, it’s also a verb), and we care a lot about parties and dinners. At work, we take many coffee breaks to chat. Social life is everything to Scandinavians, but we care about a cozy, comforting social environment for Hygge things, rather than a party environment. Hygge is separate from our party mentality, which is pretty wild if you ask us. Hygge is not a wild night out – it’s a night in.
Things you may know as hygge are: Netflix and chill, date nights in with pizza and pajamas, slumber parties, playing Fortnite or Apex with the boys on a quiet, rainy day, or going to the spa with your girlfriends. As sounds, Hygge would be a muffled, warm buzz, like the sound of low pitched Christmas music vibrating through the living room, the crackling of a fire, and when a movie stays on past midnight and you’re falling into a sweet sleep. It could feel like napping with your dog, waking up to coffee and a soft couch, and curling up by a fire with your kids or siblings. These things are all what we in Denmark call hyggelig – the adjective form of Hygge.
When something ‘possesses’ Hygge, it is called hyggelig. Even without a warm fireplace, hot chocolate, fluffy blanket, or black and white movie, you can meditate yourself into a hyggelig state of mind with the right people, or the right surroundings. You may say, “but Scandinavian houses are not very warm and cozy, they’re all white and empty”. Actually, part of having a sound, clear state of mind to really enjoy your surroundings and relax is having a clean living space, free of clutter, with room to move around and create. Empty space creates room to just be, and is great for mental health. Simple homes are not only found in Scandinavian culture, but in Japan, among other places – a country known for concepts like Zen and Ikigai.
Speaking of Japanese interior design, there is a reason that Japanese and Scandinavian design is mixing. The idea of “sparking joy” as Marie Kondo calls it, through respect and positivity of one’s surroundings, is the idea of Hygge. Go Marie Kondo on your apartment and clean up your space – it will declutter your mind, and the euphoric feeling will bring you close to Hygge.
This message exists in Buddhist culture as well. Buddhist trends are spiking in popularity because we seek simplicity and cleansing from the anxiety of everyday more and more, and this is a big part of the Hygge mission too. Incense, meditation, yoga, and mindfulness for example, are all also part of Hygge.
As you can see, Hygge is not just found in Scandinavia, it is everywhere. We just found a word for our version of the feeling, the action, the phenomenon.
With that in mind, here comes a gentle summary of advice on how you can ‘spark Hygge’ in your life: by focusing on clearing your living space, treating yourself, being kind and welcoming to others, making time, taking deep breaths, and creating mindful comfort everywhere. Hygge is coziness, togetherness, surplus, and everything that creates a peaceful mind and environment. Us Scandinavians have branded this lifestyle as a ‘hyggelig’, a lifestyle possessing Hygge, but anyone can create it on their own terms.