“Do Hot Pockets count as hygge?” I ask my husband on our first night of practicing the Danish way-of-life-turned-phenomenon. Hygge is one of those new ideas (for Americans at least) that’s gained steam because it offers a road to happiness—our nation’s obsession. I decided to give it a test run.
But first, what exactly is hygge?
Meik Wiking, the author of The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets To Happy Living, and CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, tells SELF that hygge has been called everything from “the art of creating intimacy,” to “coziness of the soul,” and even, “cocoa by candlelight.” In his book, Wiking explains that you know hygge when you feel it, but that some of the key ingredients are togetherness, relaxation, indulgence, presence, and comfort. “The true essence of hygge is the pursuit of everyday happiness and it’s basically like a hug, just without the physical touch,” he says.
According to the 2016 World Happiness Report, Denmark clocks in as the world’s happiest country and Wiking believes that the positive stat can be attributed to hygge. “The Danes are exceptionally good at decoupling wealth and well-being," he says. “We focus on the small things that really matter, including spending more quality time with friends and family and enjoying the good things in life.”
That might be why the concept of hygge has experienced such popularity here in the U.S. It seems like everywhere you look, someone wants to know how to best master the art of hygge. And even with another Scandinavian concept gaining popularity—ever heard of lagom?—it doesn't seem like our love of hygge is going anywhere. Hence my desire to try it for myself.
So, how exactly do you pronounce hygge?
Hygge is pronounced HOO-gah. Hygge can be noun, a verb, and an adjective. You can practice by saying things like, “What a hyggelig (hygge-like) home you have!” Or, “It was so hyggelig to see you!” Also, popular: “Saturday night was so hyggelig.” Alternatively, you can be a hyggespreder (someone who spreads the hygge). Wooly socks—a cozy must-have—are hyggesokker, and finally, Friday night can be reserved for familiehygge. But no matter how you say it, hygge is the new poster child for happiness.
Let's get to it. How do you practice hygge?
Full disclosure: I’m so over self-help-get-happy books. Marie Kondo, the Japanese organizing consultant, took the world by storm claiming we should sweep our lives clean of anything that doesn’t spark joy and thank the stuff that does. But I don’t want to thank my socks for their service. And there are a slew of books on practicing minimalism, begging us to throw out our possessions for experiences. But I don’t want to part with my books.
This whole hygge thing is something I might be able to get behind, though. It requires only a small effort, doesn’t ask me to speak to my gym clothes, and costs little—if any—money. Wiking says, “There is nothing fancy, expensive, or luxurious about a pair of ugly woolen hygge socks—and that is a vital feature of hygge. It’s about appreciating the simple pleasures in life and can be achieved on a shoestring budget.” Plus, it’s just fun to say.
I asked Wiking to lay out the perfect day of hygge for me. He said I should make sure that I have enough time, not be in a hurry, and focus on the simple pleasures. (Cancel my Spin class, please.) “For instance, let a good stew simmer for hours while you read a good book and enjoy a nice cup of tea. Also, keep it old-school—board games over computer games,” Wiking instructs.
His book suggests to hang a hygge manifesto on the refrigerator as a reminder to practice hygge every day. So I cleared my weekend calendar, taped up the manifesto and—armed with Wiking’s suggestions—I got hygge with it. Here’s how to do it.
First, it's important to create the perfect hygge environment.
According to the book, no recipe for hygge is complete without a collection of flickering light. When Danes are asked what they most associate with hygge, 85 percent will say candles. Their homes are filled with glowing flames, lit in every room, and so are Danish boardrooms and classrooms. For Americans, this would scream, “fire hazard,” but for Danes it’s a way of life. I’m lacking in the candle department, so it’s the one single purchase I made for this experiment—about 20 white unscented cheapies, and I burned them with reckless abandon. Instantly, my home felt calm and romantic.
Hygge also calls for a comfortable blanket. You don't have to ask me twice.
I don’t have a reindeer hide like the one that’s recommended on Hyggelife.com, but I did receive an electric warming throw for Christmas. I cranked up the heat and toasted myself underneath like a HoneyBaked Ham. This, paired with a book and blank to-do list, felt like I’d won the lottery.
And nothin' but loungewear.
Socks, sweater, leggings—even a bun is suggested to feel the most hyggelig. Also recommended is a pair of hyggebusker: a pair of pants one would never wear in public, but are secretly a favorite. Is this a perfect dream? I spent the weekend in leggings, a cozy sweater, my hyggesokke, and a top knot—along with zero shame for lounging about in a decade-old pair of sweatpants.
The hygge way of eating is all about indulging mindfully.
It’s suggested that the high level of meat, cakes, and coffee consumption in Denmark is directly linked to hygge. From a culinary perspective, hygge is about giving yourself a break from the demands of healthy living, but taking time to bake, savor, and enjoy the process of it. Wiking says that cake is hyggeligt, hot chocolate, too, but carrot sticks and foie gras—not so much. The book recommends a hearty stew or a bowl of popcorn, shared from the same bowl. I threw some meat, potatoes, onion, carrots, and fragrant herbs into a slow cooker and let the rustic scent permeate my home. My husband and I ate this by candlelight and I sipped on hot tea after dinner. I wasn't drinking when I did my hygge experiment, but if I were, I’d have simmered a batch of glogg. Porridge—also very hygge—replaced my avocado toast for breakfast, while bringing back fond childhood memories of my grandma stirring Cream of Wheat and serving it to me in a special bowl. We made popcorn the old-fashioned way and shared. Every one of these menu items felt like a true indulgence—like a food hug, if there were such a thing.
Combining all of the above with relaxing activities = total bliss.
This book recommends that we actually Netflix and chill. Not in so many words, but cuddling up and watching a movie or TV is very hygge—especially if you’re sharing a blanket and bowl of popcorn. Board games, books, and maybe taking a walk is also hygge. Petting a cat, too. Essentially, this is my dream prescription for relaxation. Wiking suggests a hyggekrog, which roughly translates to “a nook.” So I created a place in my home to snuggle up with my warming blanket, read a book, and sip tea. My husband and I polished off a season of The Crown and rarely left the house all weekend, save for one long walk. It was utterly glorious.
The verdict: Hygge is exactly what I needed.
While hygge is not just about making sure you have these elements in your space—after all, the main component of hygge is that you're feeling present and spending quality time with yourself or your loved ones—the book did offer up plenty of advice that helped me get to that feeling of coziness and contentment. All in all, I can say with certainty that hygge is my jam. My husband and I have taken to (incorrectly) calling it hoagie (like the sandwich) and use the term constantly. Right now, when our world feels a little bit uncertain, hygge is a way to practice self-care that feels sincere. This book, with its child-like illustrations, gives you permission to cozy up and take cover with the people you love most. It’s not preachy, nor does it tell me to throw my possessions in the garbage. And the best part is that I don’t have to ask my socks if they’re sparking joy—I can simply pull on a pair of ugly woolen hyggesokker and know that they’ve kindled the ultimate happiness.