Scandinavian Hygge: What Is It? Is It for You?

Many people have heard the word “hygge” and may even associate it with Scandinavia. They may see hygge depicted with a person reading a book and drinking a cup of coffee.

Sometimes it’s associated with happiness and healthy living. So what is hygge? And how is it pronounced anyway?

With roots in Denmark, in the region, of Scandinavia, “hygge” refers to a lifestyle of simplicity. It’s is a way of life that prioritizes inward and outward simplicity.

It aims to eliminate daily stress and maximize coziness, rest, and interpersonal relationships.

Because there are no rules to hygge, the lifestyle has different expressions. For one person, scented candles, wool blankets, and a tabby cat aid their relaxation.

Yet another person may be allergic to one of those things, or perhaps all three.

The principles of hygge are not dependent upon having or using certain material objects, but it recognizes that certain physical items may assist their ability to be calm and restful. Keep reading to learn more.

Studies show that Scandinavians are the happiest people on Earth. See Why are Scandinavian Countries so Happy? to learn more.

hygge books blankets
Hygge involves coziness and peaceful relaxation

How is hygge pronounced and where did it come from?

How do you say hygge? The word “hygge” comes from Danish via Norwegian. Though many English speakers are tempted to pronounce it HIGH-GEE, that is incorrect. [1] Hygge is pronounced HUGH-GAH.

What is the history of hygge? The origin of hygge is unclear. What is known is that it’s a lifestyle rooted in Scandinavian culture.

What is the purpose of hygge? Because winters in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and other Scandinavian countries are long and dark, the lifestyle patterns associated with hygge may have been used to help people cope with, and persevere through, difficult seasons. 

What is the hygge lifestyle?

Hygge, as a way of life, is about much more than just adding creature comforts to a daily routine or to one’s home decor.

In fact, a person living by the principles of hygge may be subtracting activities and possessions from their life, more than they are “adding” them.

Instead, hygge’s core principle is simplicity. It values simplicity in relation to possessions, time management, and anything else in life that might clutter stress-free relaxation.

Hygge isn’t opposed to hard work, discipline, and ambition, but the inward tension and frustration that comes from the restless pursuit of achievement and things.

Again, achievement and things aren’t inherently wrong in the hygge lifestyle; the “restless pursuit” is what needs correction.

Because hygge isn’t a belief system or a way to view the entire world like many religions are. Hygee is a collection of principles that revolve around simplicity.

That said, there are identifying features of the hygge that are common to people who enjoy the lifestyle.

Scandinavia is known in part for its health care and social benefits. See Democratic Socialism in Scandinavia to learn more.

hygge principles
Hygge is about eliminating clutter in all forms

Hygge’s core principles (with examples)

Expressions of hygge vary. To some, it may involve reading a book. To others, it may be whittling a piece of wood. To others, it may involve walking.

Yet the reader, the whittler, and the walker are each being intentional about simplifying their life, and have implemented an activity that is helpful to them individually. Yet here are some common aspects to hygge:

Minimizing material possessions: People who practice hygge often seek to minimize their material possessions.

Hygge isn’t necessarily a “minimalist lifestyle,” but does believe that a restless drive to acquire and consume more and more things is unhealthy.

The assumption of hygge is that having fewer material things will promote more warmth and coziness, not just in one’s home, but in one’s life.

With less stuff comes less anxiety about that stuff, freeing a person to think about problems that are truly important and worthy of one’s time or to not think about problems at all. [4]

An example of a first step:

  • Reduce clutter in the home. The assumption of the lifestyle is that clutter amounts to chaos in one’s life. Not only is physical space crowded, but one’s mind is similarly jam-packed, leaving less room for calm, peace, and rest. When there is margin in the home, there is margin in one’s mind, according to hygge. There are literally less things to think about, and potentially worry about and stress over.

Eliminating stress: Hygge opposes stress in all its expressions. Reducing and eliminating stress—and all the dangers it imposes on a person’s physical, emotional, and spiritual health—is one of the elements that practitioners find most appealing about hygge. [2]

An example of a first step:

  • Identify areas of stress. What causes people stress? Money problems? Trials at work? Unhealthy habits? Tension in relationships? People who follow hygge target aspects of their life that cause them great frustration and transform them through simplicity for peace and rest.

Maximizing time with friends and family: Rich and meaningful relationships, and an intimate sense of community, are pillars of the hygge lifestyle. Yet time together is about quality over quantity.

Togetherness isn’t about merely being in the presence of other people to stave off superficial feelings of loneliness.

Having thriving relationships with family members and friends is an important value in the hygge way of life.

An example of a first step:

  • As opposed to having a routine that is characterized by stress, people who practice hygge seek to develop a routine marked by comfort and relaxation. Having loved ones over for coffee, tea, or a meal routinely—for example, on the second Saturday of each month—establishes a pattern of interacting with healthy, supportive, and beneficial relationships. Instead of making commitments to stressful behaviors, hygge encourages people to make commitments to healthy behaviors.

The flags of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and other Scandinavian countries have similarities and differences. See Flags of Scandinavia to learn more.

Why is hygge so popular?

Why is the hygge lifestyle so appealing, even to those who live outside of Scandinavia and Denmark?

To answer these questions, it’s important to identify what needs the hygge lifestyle meets in people? If hygge is the answer for so many, then what exactly is the question?

The universal search for happiness is found in all people. People pursue happiness. What makes people happy may differ, but no matter a person’s nationality, gender, or age—men and women, child, and teenager—desire happiness.

But are people pursuing the right things in their search for happiness?

A lot of people are looking for the next big, new material possession that will make them feel good, even if just for a short period of time.

New things are exciting to many people, yet the euphoria that comes after purchasing something often fades, leading people to buy more, and then buy more again.

Some people, upon reflection, realize that material possessions don’t ultimately satisfy.

They have a house full of things, but inwardly they are no different. What they thought would satisfy them, doesn’t end up doing so. Hygge responds to this cycle by suggesting that less is more. 

However, hygge is not just a quick fix. Some that practice the lifestyle, having been so for years, and even generations, in some cases.

If someone is really interested in following the hygge way of life it may come with a cost. Hygee is simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Coziness, rest, peace, and happiness are sometimes the result of discipline and hard work, especially if a person’s tendency is buying, spending, and collecting.

Note that hygge doesn’t offer people answers to life’s ultimate questions like many religions do.

Hygge relates to happiness in that it offers people practical help, based on certain lifestyle principles, to help people eradicate stress and rush, and promote coziness, peace, and rest in one’s routine.

The desire to live at a slower pace. Many people who live in the Western world live an unhealthy lifestyle. A lot of people—even children—are over-committed, over-scheduled, and over-caffeinated.

As a result, they eat poorly, don’t exercise as often as they should, and are overwhelmed and exhausted as a result. People may rush from activity to activity, but their identity is mostly just being busy.

For some people, busyness feels like productivity, progress, and accomplishment.

Hygge teaches the opposite, and for this reason, it appeals to people living in a culture of rush and busyness, who love the idea and crave life at a slower pace but don’t know how to go about it.

Having a way of life that centers around the belief that “the slower the better,” and the simpler the better draws people to hygge. 

Some people want to re-create simpler times. Sometimes people like to talk about “the good old days.” They reflect on times in their life that were easier, simpler, and more peaceful.

There was less stress, less anxiety, and sometimes, less money and material possessions as well. Nevertheless, life seemed better.

Yet life, for whatever reason, doesn’t feel like that anymore.

While hygge isn’t a time machine that transports people back to “the good ole days,” it can help create an environment that can produce some of those same positive feelings through lifestyle choices.

Some need help redefining what is most important. Some people focus a lot on achievements and accolades, whether personal or professional.

They are involved in a lot of activities, and as a result, may accomplish a lot, but they do so at the expense of a healthy lifestyle that incorporates coziness, simplicity, and rest.

Hygge invites people to shift their focus and to reconsider changing what is most important. Realizing that certain pursuits that rob people of time, health, and joy, are not really the most important things in this life, can be liberating.

How people spend their time and money can reflect what their priorities are. Many people who practice hygge desire to readjust their focus to themselves and their home.

They desire to be emotionally and spiritually healthy and that often comes from ensuring that their home life is setting them up for success and that they are spending quality time with the people most important to them.

Some people want the help of others to find contentment. Contentment is often defined using words like “satisfaction” and phrases like “ease of mind.”

Who doesn’t want contentment? Some people try to fulfill a desire for contentment with shopping sprees and other pursuits that don’t produce the desires they seek. 

Sometimes what tires people out the most is the pursuit itself. People chase new things, better things, bigger things, but in the end, it just results in more things.

Hygge opposes the cyclical nature of pursuing things for the purpose of satisfying deep longings.

man stressed in front of a laptop
Hygge seeks to minimize stress and anxiety

How do people practice hygge?

How does a person get started with hygge? Below are some examples that a person can consider The examples below are two ways to get started.

Most people who practice hygge assess their home to see what can be changed in order to set a person up for success when it comes to coziness, relaxation, and rest. These examples aren’t rules, just ideas:

(1) Re-evaluate your home

The decor of a room or house can set the stage for what a person hopes to accomplish in that space. Does the decor encourage coziness and rest or does it take away from it? Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Colors: The color scheme of a home or room may help or hinder certain people when it comes to implementing hygge. Some people, for example, find soft tans and beige hues helpful for relaxation because of their calming effect. These colors keep spaces light and open, while allowing the area to remain neutral. 
  • Accessories: Creating an atmosphere that is centered around comfort is foundational to hygge.  A word that can be translated as coziness can’t be missing comfort in its expressions and applications. Certain blankets, pillows, art, and music, may be helpful to some.
  • Candles: Candles may not be for everyone, but they are a staple to hygge for most practitioners. Candles are a type of accessory and a type of lighting, which are two important elements to establishing coziness, peace, and rest, in one’s home or room.
  • Lighting: Most people who practice hygge prefer soft lighting and shy away from fluorescent lighting. It’s generally agreed that lighting can establish the atmosphere for a space, so it’s wise to consider it.
  • Fire: Fireplaces, wood-burning stoves, and electric fireplaces, are common in homes where hygge is implemented. This isn’t surprising given the cooler climate in Scandinavia where the lifestyle originated.
  • Bathroom Many hygge homes will have a calm, cozy, inviting bathroom, including a bathtub, with relaxing accessories and decorations, in which a person will soak and relax.
  • Clothing: Clothes people find comfortable vary. Some prefer something form-fitting. Others prefer something loose-fitting. The principle is to be comfortable, whatever one’s attire.
  • Sound: Sounds can be helpful and unhelpful when it comes to practicing hygge. Some may find soft music or sounds found in nature relaxing. On the other hand, many people may find that sounds like traffic disturb hygge. In that case, a more expensive option would to install specialty windows; a less expensive option would be to purchase noise-cancelling headphones.

(2) Re-evaluate your work-rest routine

Another way a person can practically apply the principles of hygge and make an almost immediate difference in their stress level is to not work to the detriment of one’s health or, most important, relationships.

Scandinavians are known for having a healthy balance between work and rest. This is partly what attracts people to the hygge way of life.

It implies that working 60 or 80-hour weeks is ultimately detrimental to one’s health and relationships. Working isn’t bad, according to hygge, and it is a necessary part of life, but it needs to be responsibly regulated. 

Can Anyone Practice Hygge?

Anyone can practice hygge. The lifestyle is for anyone that wants to reduce stress and escape from unhealthy patterns, whether personal or professional.

It doesn’t matter where a person lives in the world or what they do for a living.

Can a person only practice parts of hygge? Yes. A person could choose to do only the parts of hygge that are easy for them or that they can do without changing how they live.

However, many would say that isn’t really the intention the hygge way of life and the results will likely be insignificant.

For example, changing the decor in one’s home, but continuing to work 60 hours per week, isn’t truly applying the lifestyle’s principles.

However, if a person leaves work at a decent hour—and leaves what is left undone at the office—but just doesn’t like candles, then they can still genuinely practice hygge

Or, if a person likes cozy accessories and calm lighting, and has a clutter-free home, which family and friends enjoy visiting, but fireplaces aren’t for them, they can still live the hygge lifestyle.

People all over the world practice hygge. It’s popular in Denmark, Norway, and other Scandinavian countries. It’s also found a following in the Western world, like elsewhere in Europe and in the United States.

Hygge remains different from the way many Westerners live.

Typically, they are very busy relative to the rest of the world and have little time for coziness, peace, and rest.

Their days and weeks are scheduled to the fullest degree possible. 

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Christian Christensen

Christian started Scandinavia Facts to explore his family heritage, raise awareness of one of his academic interests as a professor, and civilly promote the region. Please see the About page for details.

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