In Denmark there’s a word for enjoying the simple pleasures in life: hygge

Publishers and trend predictors believe hygge will be the next big thing.

Publishers and trend predictors believe hygge will be the next big thing – but this is more than just another buzz word, says Vickie Maye.

Last year we were all about Marie Kondo. Our clothes, furniture had to “spark joy”. If they didn’t, they had to go. We followed step-by-step graphics in a bid to fold our clothes the Kondo way.

That was 2015.

Now, in 2016, it’s the year of “hygge”. Or so trend predictors and publishers will tell us.

By Christmas, a host of tomes on the Danish way of life will flood bookshelves.

Another year another buzzword, I assumed, eyebrow raised in scepticism.

And then I saw the book. The very beautiful Book of Hygge. I didn’t even need to read it. The pictures said it all.

Cosy slippers, candle light, open fires; warmth, comfort, shelter.

In Denmark there’s a word for enjoying the simple pleasures in life: hygge

Hygge is a concept, a feeling, a way of life the Danes take for granted. 

There is no translation as such, but think words like hug, wellbeing, cosy.

It’s curling up in front of the fire; warm dry socks after the rain; a family BBQ in summer.

Truth is, we Irish do it all the time. Nobody does it better really. Pub get-togethers, christenings, Christmas.

The difference is the Danes have a name for it.

And giving it that label, that vocabulary, gives it focus and prominence.

As one writer puts it: “It’s not meant to be translated, only felt.” 

It’s a way of being, a notion so natural to the Danes it’s no surprise it took an outsider to write about it.

Louisa Thomsen Brits (below) was well-placed to tell the hygge story. 

In Denmark there’s a word for enjoying the simple pleasures in life: hygge

With a Danish mum and an English dad, she spent her childhood in South Africa before returning to the UK. She grew up with hygge thanks to her mother; candles, she recalls, were always lit at dinner time.

Her grandfather, it turns out, was Irish. And in his own way, he was a master of hygge too. He would sit and drink tea and have “all the time in the world” Louisa recalls.

There are a few reasons why the rest of world is suddenly discovering hygge (pronounced ‘hugh-guh’). Scandinavia has never been cooler — from TV to fashion to food, we just can’t get enough of it.

But Louisa believes our discovery of hygge isn’t a mere search for the latest trend. 

The world is in turmoil, there is war, instability. And this Danish way of life is all about simplicity, connection, family, appreciation.

“Hygge isn’t about creating the perfect environment,” Louisa says sagely. 

“It’s recognising that it already exists.

“We overextended ourselves in the pursuit of happiness, the search for individualism. And this is the desire for communal wellbeing.”

There are no rules either, no daily mediation practices, for example. There’s no navel-gazing. No, this is pure simplicity. 

Hygge is rising 10 minutes early to share breakfast with your family and connect before you move out into the world. Hygge is reading your child’s bedtime story. It is the glass of wine at dinner.

In Denmark there’s a word for enjoying the simple pleasures in life: hygge

Hygge, just like the Danish mindset in general, is not about denial. Yo-yo diets are rare in Denmark. While we fast in January, they use the darkest dullest month of year to enjoy life all the more. 

The Danes are less self critical. They are kinder to themselves.

Perhaps hygge explains why the Danes always come out among the highest in studies on the happiest nations in the world.

“It’s true. They have uncomplicated joyfulness,” Louisa says of her Danish relatives.

“They appreciate the smaller things in life. It is a byproduct of living in an egalitarian society. It grants them tremendous wellbeing and a strong social consciousness. 

"The Danes live in a privileged society, their needs are attended to — they have shelter, they are looked after by the state. Their health is good. When you have all that, then you can open up your heart and focus on your local community, society in general. 

"Nobody is scrambling for their needs to be met. They also eschew status. They are already seen. Already heard.”

Candles are a central to hygge (more are sold in Denmark than almost anywhere else in the world).

In Denmark there’s a word for enjoying the simple pleasures in life: hygge

“We are drawn to fire, drawn to its warmth. With hygge you find the light inside yourself. You find solace, warmth.”

As we savour the final days of August, take a moment to recognise how you feel at the family BBQ you know deep down will be the last of summer. That’s hygge.

Cuddling up to your partner in the evening, when everything somehow clicks and connects and just feels right. That’s hygge too. 

The bedtime story with your children? For me, that’s hygge at its best. 

And now I have a name for my favourite part of my day.


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