I was given a wonderful little book by a close friends a few years ago, titled The Little Book Of Hygge. I find it hilarious how this concept is spreading around the world to such an extent that people are writing multiple books on the subject – but it’s also very encouraging, as some would say hygge is essential to happiness (most of those people live in Denmark). It can help you enjoy the little things, and live a comfortable and content life.
My father’s entire side of the family is Danish, and I’ve spent many a summer and winter in Denmark (as well as a year abroad in Copenhagen), so you might say I have grown up with the concept of hygge (verb: to hygge, adjective: hyggeligt/hyggelig depending on gender of the noun, or hyggelige if plural).
I have also grown up in the UK, and as such I feel like I have a lot of insight into how people can lack hygge in various scenarios. I have read countless articles and books written by foreigners on what hygge is, and what it means, and how to achieve it. But the more I read about it, the more I feel like there’s something missing from these descriptions. They’ll say something that’s maybe 85% true, followed by something materialistic or dumbed-down. This might be a description of the many items which are absolutely essential to a hyggelig atmosphere, including candles (I never got this memo by the way) – but you can’t buy hygge. I’m going to be exploring common misconceptions about hygge, and how to live a hyggeligt life without spending a penny!
Hygge is, at its core, contentment with simplicity.
Common misconception #1: Hygge is pronounced “hoo-ga”
This is simply not true. It’s pronounced “hü-guh” (where ü is as in the German words “für”, “würde”, and “überraschung”, and “uh” is the schwah sound you get in the words “important”, “murky”, and “uhhh…”). Alternatively if you prefer IPA, it would be “hygə”.
(Something else to note here is how many people use hygge as an adjective WHEN IT IS NOT ONE!! You can’t live a “hygge life”!!! It’s a hyggeligt life, thank you very much. Although, I will add that in certain contexts the noun form can be glued on to a word and effectively used as an adjective – but in this scenario, you’re essentially forming a new word because of how frequently it is used, for example “hygge-music”, or a “hygge-corner”.)
Common misconception #2: Hygge can be approximated by cosiness
Many people say hygge loosely translates to “cosiness”. This is one of those things which is 85% true, but often undermined by the descriptions that follow. That warm feeling you get when you’re snuggled up next to the fire is definitely hygge. But the key to hygge is bringing this attitude to scenarios you may think don’t deserve the label cosy. Things like being at work, or studying, or playing computer games can all be hyggelige. So can cooking, going on a walk, playing board games, and wrapping presents. And if your fireplace is too fancy, or the company is too up themselves, then sitting by the fireplace might not be hyggeligt at all!
My issue with conflating hygge and cosiness is that cosiness draws up images of a type of luxury for me – mahogany tables, stone fireplaces, big country houses, and so on. A beautiful wooden ski chalet is cosy, for example.
But to me hygge has always been the exact opposite of all this – simple, cheap, and cheerful (basically IKEA). As much as I love lavish holidays and log cabins that instagram well, on some level these things very much go against the spirit of hygge.
Common misconception #3: Hygge is to do with the things you own
Many books and articles cite Danes saying things like candles are hyggelige. Candles, fireplaces, throw blankets, comfort food, hot drinks [see HERE for reference]. While this is true, none of these things are essential to hygge, and focusing on these items is almost missing the point. I’ll give you an example. If I were to ask you to describe what ‘Christmas spirit’ is, you’d probably give me a vague collection of things you enjoy doing around Christmas, followed by some spiel about what Christmas means to you, and some items commonly used around Christmastime. Now imagine I’m writing a book or an article on Christmas spirit, and I essentially just list these items: Christmas wreath, Christmas tree, fireplace, gingerbread house, snowman. Sure, if you already know what getting in the Christmas spirit is, these images will conjure up feelings associated with these items since childhood. But if you don’t have a clue what Christmas spirit is, you might mistakenly think you have to buy a bunch of things and move somewhere cold and snowy to get in the Christmas spirit, which simply isn’t the case. You can get in the Christmas spirit in Florida, or without owning a single decoration! Much like Christmas spirit, hygge is a sentiment – something that can be brought out by certain items or attached to certain places, but ultimately something you control and something that could apply to pretty much any situation or object. It’s a bit like nostalgia in that sense. You may associate it with certain items from the 80s or 90s, but these items are simply representative of a deeper feeling which might be difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t understand what nostalgia is.
Common misconception #4: Hygge is about mindfulness and distance from technology
Althogh hygge and mindfulness can go very well together, they actually have nothing to do with one other. And hygge has nothing to do with being away from technology. I remember my cousin describing doing pixel art on her computer as hyggeligt, as well as various PC/ playstation games and films and TV shows throughout the years (personally I think friends is the most hyggeligt thing in the world). As long as you’re enjoying something that someone else might describe as “a waste of time”, believe me, it can be hyggeligt. Coding can be hyggeligt! World of warcraft parties can be hyggelige! A crappy film can be hyggelig! (note the different conjugations above – Danish is a strange language…)
Common misconception #5: Hygge is about pampering yourself
Hygge can be about doing really self-indulgent things, like having an ice cream on a grey, windy beach or spending an entire day baking cookies – but you can also have a hyggeligt time writing an essay or doing housework. It’s all about attitude. If you decide you’ll take things chilled, and you do everything one step at a time, and you’ve basically made the decision to enjoy whatever it is you’re doing, then you’re having a hyggelig day.
The key thing here is that pampering yourself is often a way of spending time “productively” on yourself. It’s about making the most of the few hours of free time you have per week, and essentially not wasting that time. I’ve actually, believe it or not, managed to stress myself out about my free time and whether or not I was spending it correctly because my chosen activity might not be quite as calming as it could have been. Hygge is about allowing yourself to just do stupid shit for the sake of it, and to enjoy it.
Common misconception #6: Hygge is instagrammable
As a general rule, the more instagrammable something is, the less hyggeligt it will be. Why? It might be to do with the focus on how things look. In general, hygge = cheap and cheerful. There are no rules for how things need to appear on the surface – and anyone who tells you otherwise is probably trying to sell you something (if you’re making money out of hygge, it’s probably not hyggeligt). Hygge isn’t rich, velvety chocolate cake – it’s a Greggs sausage roll (Not a fan of the pork analogy as pigs are far too cute to eat but it’s the best I’ve got! Do Greggs do veggie sausage rolls? Who knows.)
The idea that you need to cover your house in candles to have a hyggelig day in glamourises it a bit too much for my taste. And most of the photos on instagram with the #hygge hashtag are simply far too picturesque to accurately represent it. If everything looks too good then it’s almost by definition not that hyggeligt. Which is ok! I often prefer the fancy vibe to the hyggeligt vibe – it’s just nice to know which is which.
So, I’ve listed a bunch of things which I feel don’t accurately represent hygge. So what does? How would I actually describe hygge to someone who desperately wanted to understand it?
- Hygge is a warm, calm, fuzzy feeling you can bring into anything you do. It’s the loss of a sense of time – whether from editing a blog post all day, watching a film, bullet journalling on the sofa, reading a book outside, building a fort, playing board games with your friends, or ending up in a deep conversation on a long walk.
- Hygge is appreciating the simple things in life and being ok with the ordinary.
- Hygge is doing things you love without worrying about how glamorous they are.
I hope this helped! If you want to learn more, I highly recommend the parody book Say Ja! to Hygge, particularly if you already have some connection to Denmark. I spent almost a full day laughing and reading quotes aloud to my husband. 🇩🇰
P.S. For some suggestions for hyggelige, mostly free things to do around Christmas check out my post on 10 Things To Do This December!