You can’t talk happiness without talking about Denmark. The tiny nation of Denmark is widely considered to be one of, if not THE, happiest country in the world. Since the United Nations began publishing its annual world happiness report in 2016, Denmark has been ranked in the top 3 nations for happiest citizens every single year. Interestingly enough, its fellow Nordic nations of Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden have all made the top 10 every year. I want to look at what makes this entire group of nations collectively happy in a later post, which I intend to publish within the next two weeks. But for now, let’s focus on Denmark.
A quick glance at the map will show you that Denmark is located way up in the northern latitudes, close to the arctic circle such that it receives hardly any daylight in winter, with plenty of dark and wet weather year-round to boot. With the known association between sunlight exposure and happiness (another future post), it might seem improbably that a nation with Denmark could rank so high in happiness.
As it turns out, at the core of the Danish notion of happiness, there is a concept about the art of being comfortable, about being able to find, peace, relaxation, and happiness in the little things. This concept is called hygge (Who-guh), which comes from a Norwegian word meaning “well being.” Even more difficult than pronouncing hygge is trying to explain or define it, in fact, over 1/3 of Danes believe that Hygge cant be translated or defined at all. The closest I can come to defining Hygge is as the art of comfort and enjoyment. To paraphrase Meik Wiking, founder of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen (yes they literally have an institute for researching happiness in Denmark), in his own paraphrasing of Winnie the Pooh in his book “The Little Book of Hygge”:
“It isn’t how you
spell define it, its how you feel it.” ~Winnie the Pooh ~ Meik Wiking.
One of the notable things I realized while reading Wiking’s book and learning more about hygge, was that Hygge is different for everyone and it even differs at time of the year. In the notoriously brutal Danish winters, hygge involves cozying up in soft wool socks and sweaters while drinking warm beverages with a few friends around a fire. In the pleasant, sunny, summers, hygge becomes enjoying nature while rowing a canoe with a companion and watching the magnificent sunset light up the sky with a dozen hues of orange and purple beyond the horizon of the lake. For the more introverted among us it might be cozying up on a comfortable couch and listening to music, while for others it might be a board game night at a good friends house with a group of friends (note: hygge is often enjoyed in groups, though these groups are almost always small, as too large a group can ruin the hygge-lig (hygge like) experience.))
Another interesting note on hygge, is that in order for hygge to exist, it must exist in contrast to something else, the anti-hygge. This may explain why in the face of such harsh winters, such that one would find it unlikely to find the worlds happiest people, that the Danes remain happy. Without those windy, bitingly cold winters, the whole concept of getting comfortable under a blanket next to a fire doesn’t have the same appeal. Without a brutal winter that keeps you inside, that summer hoke through the mountains doesn’t seem so special, as instead it becomes the norm, the expected. Because of this, we can understand hygge as an appreciation of sorts, gratitude for special occasions, and enjoyment of the simple things that aren’t always there.
Again, hygge is different for everyone. What it really is, is about being comfortable, and grateful. About letting your guard down, and simply being content with your place in the world.
That being said, below is a list of things that most Danes associate as being core tenants of hygge, as reported by Wiking:
1. Atmosphere: turn off the incandescent lights and enjoy some soft natural lighting such as that from candles or fires. Danes lead the world in candle usage and more Danes have fireplaces in their home than any other European nation.
2. Presence: turn off your phones. No talk of politics, work, or other hot-button issues. This is about comfort and togetherness.
3. Pleasure: especially comfort food. The Danes are VERY fond of their sweets and cakes. For this, think warm beverages, cake, cookies and more. If you are a non-Dane wanting to practice hygge I am sure you will have no trouble coming up with your own notion of comfort food.
4. Equality: Hygge is not about comparison, ostentatiousness, or anything that might make others feel inferior. We are all equals as humans.
5. Gratitude: be here in the now. Don’t look to the future and decide you can be happy When this or If that. This may be as good as it gets. Enjoy where you are.
6. Harmony: no need to stand out or show off. This is about being a group with those with whom you share hygge.
7. Comfort: think pillows, blankets, warmth and ease.
8. Truce: see presence above. This is no time for divisive subjects. This is about appreciation of your fellow human.
9. Togetherness: build memories and bonds with those around you.
10.Shelter: feel safe and comfortable. The world can be scary. Let your guard down and be vulnerable with those with whom you share your hygge.
I have inevitably left out a great deal regarding the concept of hygge. I have every intention of revisiting this concept in future posts, as I hope to share this wonderful idea with others. In the meantime, though, I hope you can take this post to heart. Think about some ways in your life that you can introduce more hygge. Can you create a more hygge living space with some natural light. Can you make a tasty meal that will bring you comfort. Is there a group of friends you can have over for a movie night or a relaxing chat around a fire?
However you choose to practice, I hope that you can follow the lead of the Danes, and put more hygge in your life so that you may experience a higher sense of happiness.
I highly encourage you to read Meik Wiking’s book: you can follow the link here
Also, visit the Happiness Research Institute’s website and check out their amazing work: