Hygge Is Here—and That’s a Good Thing

Cozy design, supported by science.

Posted Mar 03, 2017

Hygge (pronounced HOO-gah) has arrived—and cognitive science researchers are thrilled to see it reach North America.

Hygge is cozy design, northern European style. It’s been a popular choice for homes and workplaces in Denmark and nearby areas for a long time.

Warm light, often from fireplaces or candles, is a key feature of hyggelig (the adjective form of “hygge”) places. Humans are more relaxed and in better moods in places lit with the sort of golden light produced by fires and candles. People tend to get along better with others and think more creatively under warm light—and creative thinking is regularly handy when people are spending time together. Research has also shown that looking at a fire can help with cognitive restoration, which is important after a day spent doing focused work. 

The candles and fires that are crucial to hygge create zones of light in spaces, and people within one of those lit zones share a territory, in technical psych terms. Sharing a territory, when all is moving along pleasantly as it generally is when people gather for hygge, leads to strong positive bonds between all those present. Sometimes, the hyggelig spaces are designed so that people in them feel secure and have a view out over the nearby area, what’s technically known as providing prospect and refuge—and that really boosts our mood and comfort levels. A space near a fireplace that’s bounded on a few sides by walls and has a slightly lower ceiling than the rest of an area gets high prospect and refuge scores. People also feel that they have a lot of control over what happens next in areas with prospect and refuge, which gives them an even stronger mental boost towards happiness.

Gathering with others is an important part of hygge, and often the gathering involves warm drinks. Research has shown that people who’ve recently held something that’s warm have more positive views of others and are more generous, for starters. 

Hyggelig spaces also feature natural materials. We generally find it pleasant to be near nature-made surfaces, particularly wooden ones with visible grain. Seeing wood grain de-stresses us in the same way that looking at nature does. 

There are often lots of curves in hyggelig spaces, in furnishings, such as round tables, in knit throws casually thrown across the back of a sofa, etc. We are calmer in spaces that feature curvilinear design elements than we are in ones where rectilinear ones predominate—but no space should ever feature just curvy or just angular patterns and contours.

The hygge invasion from the Northlands is making its way toward you. Welcome it—cognitive science supports this gift from the land of the Vikings.