The world is an unsettling place right now, whether you're out there protesting or glued to your Facebook feed. Amid all of this chaos, it's only natural to crave connection, warmth, soothing rituals, and the comforts of home. That's where hygge enters the picture.
Hygge (pronounced hoo-gah), the Danish way of belonging to the moment and each other, is having a moment right now, says Louisa Thomsen Brits, author of The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Contentment, Comfort, and Connection (Plume, February 2017), one of many new books that delve into this trending concept.
What Americans Can Learn from the Danes
"This is a time of great instability. There's a real desire for retreating back to a place of safety, and that is associated with hygge," says Thomsen Brits, who was born in Uganda, spent most of her childhood in the U.K., and grew up visiting her mother's side of the family in Denmark. But rather than closing borders, hygge can help us relate lovingly to one another and find our commonality, she adds. "Hygge introduces humanity and warmth into our homes, workplaces, and cities. At its best, it's about breeding a culture of trust and inclusivity, and living in consonance with each other. Hygge is about connection to place and people, about boundaries dissolving."
There are many reasons why we look to Denmark for advice on finding contentment and comfort. The Scandinavian country is frequently ranked by United Nations surveys as "the happiest country on Earth," and it's known for its high standard of living, decent health care, gender equality, accessible education, and equitable distribution of wealth. But Thomsen Brits says hygge is less about the very American pursuit of happiness and more about fully experiencing the simple pleasures of everyday life—like bathing, lighting a fire or a candle, opening a bottle of wine, or enjoying a meal with loved ones.
"It's attached to Danes being the happiest people in world, but at the core of hygge is the deeper stability of contentment," Thomsen Brits explains. "Danes don’t pursue happiness as a goal, they think of it as a way of being and address it every day by making the most of little things. You don’t hygger to find contentment, you find contentment in hyyge." Below, Thomsen Brits shares hygge can help you be more in the moment, and cultivate care for yourself and others.
6 Ways Hygge Can Help You Right Now
1. Hygge opens borders—rather than closing them.
"Many of us are experiencing a very tangible darkness pressing in on the periphery of our lives right now," Thomsen Brits says, referring to the instability not only in the U.S. but the fallout from the Brexit vote in the U.K. and the global refugee crisis. This, she acknowledges, can lead to an inclination to strengthen national boundaries and preserve our own interests, but she believes we can enjoy the shelter and security of hygge without closing literal and figurative borders. "Hygge can stem from a place of openheartedness and inclusiveness, where we are wholeheartedly engaged with each other," she explains.
2. Hygge can make your more aware of what you're probably already practicing as a yogi.
"Hygge is not unique to Danes; it’s a universal and very human inclination," Thomsen Brits notes. "We all hygger cross-culturally, but we can do it with greater awareness. When we prepare a meal for ourselves or people we love, sit down and share food with each other, which happens all over the world every day—that's a moment of hygge. Bedtime rituals reading to your child, or taking coffee breaks at work where you sit and chat with colleagues—that's hygge. It's really those moments when we focus on the quality of our relationships and invite intimacy, when we make contact, make love, or make tea. The important thing is to subscribe to the particulars of the moment."
3. Hygge can add a more intention to your alone time.
"There are times when we hygger alone as well as with each other," Thomsen Brits says. "There's nothing nicer than to light a candle and get into a warm bath alone with a good book. It's a good antidote to loneliness—to hygger without other people is just as restorative."
4. Hygge highlights some of yoga's key goals.
Thomsen Brits, who has a regular yoga practice, says yoga and hygge share similar goals. "Like yoga, hygge opens you to a quality of presence and a feeling of connection, so we really enter our present experience," Thomsen Brits says. "When you go to a yoga class, your balance is restored and you regain a positive frame of mind, and calmness returns. Hygge is a brief pause that restores you in the same way—it nourishes your spirit. It's about being artless, honest, welcoming, spontaneous, putting your cares down for a while, then returning to the business of everyday life and meeting it with equanimity. We certainly do it when we find other like-minded people in our local community, in cafes and yoga studios. We make the connection first to ourselves, then allow it to radiate out toward other people."
5. Hygge emphasizes contentment over happiness.
"We attach an awful lot to achieving happiness, whereas contentment is the value that we give to a situation as it is and that elevates it to a hyggeligt moment," Thomsen Brits says. "Contentment is about enjoying the richness of everyday life rather than pursuing the peak experiences of happiness. We’ve reached a point in time where there is a paradigm shift away from a preoccupation with productivity and a relentless pursuit of individual happiness. We’re being forced to acknowledge the outcome of our drive for independent happiness and beginning to slowly realize the deeper stability in contentment and interconnectedness."
6. Hygge fosters intimacy.
"Hygge is a way of inviting intimacy and connection," Thomsen Brits says. "It's about consciously addressing your needs and those of the people around you. It's an emotional and sensual experience. It’s closely associated with well-being, a deep rapport with ourselves and with the world around us."