Hygge Who? Exploring Scandinavia's Trendy Obsession with Coziness

When I heard about the Danish concept of “hygge” back in 2016, I was immediately enchanted. Pronounced “hoo-ga”, the word roughly translates to “coziness”, and carries connotations of warmth, light, and homey-ness. Pretty quickly, savvy lifestyle brands and influencers jumped on the hygge marketing bandwagon. Promoting oversized knit sweaters, mulled wines, and candles galore, these curated campaigns made hygge one of 2016’s hottest buzzwords. And like many imported fads, hygge’s influence in the US waxed and waned in the blink of an eye. But strip away a year’s worth of sensationalism and what are we left with? Where did hygge come from, and what can people outside the Scandi-sphere learn from it?

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Unlike other mysticized, foreign-imported lifestyle phenomena à la the KonMari method, hygge carries a rich linguistic and cultural history.

Originally, the word “hygge” belonged to Old Norse speakers in what is modern-day Norway and Sweden. Translated literally, it meant, “seeking refuge, protection, and shelter from the raging of the outside elements.”

Around the 18th century, the term began to diffuse into the Danish vernacular, and became what YourDanishLife calls, “a very middle-class concept” of homey-ness and modest comforts.

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For Danes, hygge isn’t something you can market to the masses. For one, it’s not all about picking the right candle for a night spent indoors. As Anna Altman of The New Yorker explains, hygge is a mentality.

Yes, warm drinks, lounge-wear, and a crackling fireplace are all hygge, but Altman and others maintain that “the true expression of hygge is joining with loved ones in a relaxed and intimate atmosphere.” Hygge is creating a sanctuary, a secure place where people feel comfortable being vulnerable. Debate, bragging, and pride have no place in hygge.

Hygge’s also baking. Lots and lots of baking.

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So what’s left for us non-Danes to take away? It’s all about what we prioritize. Is it better to watch tv and snack all night alone, or to invite loved ones over for a slow day of baking bread and sipping hot cider? To each their own, but if there’s any salt to the latest World Happiness Report, the Danes know what they’re doing.

How do you hygge? Let us know in the comments below!