Reviving Hygge for COVID-19

Why the Danish concept of coziness is more important now than ever.

Posted Apr 28, 2020

Around 2016, the concept of hygge exploded in American culture. Pronounced HOO-ga, this Danish term translates most concisely into “coziness,” but it has also been described as “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being” and “the absence of anything unpleasant.” Several years ago, hygge was suddenly everywhere: It was the topic of at least eight books, a documentary film, a design shop, and more.

Mention this phenomenon to a Dane, and you will likely be met with a look of amused bewilderment. Hygge is so embedded in Danish culture that it’s difficult for Danes to understand the fascination. But Americans are always eager for a happiness boost. And hygge is one of the most easily importable ideas from the small Scandinavian nation that consistently tops the charts of the world’s happiest countries.

Like most trends, however, hygge was soon replaced by other concepts that attempt to explain the high rates of Scandinavian happiness. Lagom, a Swedish word roughly meaning “just the right amount,” was the next idea to take hold. Fika, the daily Swedish coffee break, and sisu, the Finnish word for courage, also had their moments of influence. But now is the time to revisit the original Scandinavian buzzword. It’s time to bring hygge back.

Why now?

Hygge is practically synonymous with Danish winters, which are characterized by up to 17 hours of darkness: think flickering candles, fuzzy slippers, a crackling fire, and the winter holidays. In fact, some argue that hygge evolved as a coping mechanism for these long, harsh winters. As much of the U.S. is transitioning to the spring and summer months, hygge seems a bit out of season.

Enter COVID-19.

For those of us privileged enough to be riding out the pandemic at home, the question of how to maintain our well-being in these challenging times is paramount. Our worlds have gotten incredibly small, encompassing our home, maybe our immediate neighborhood, and the occasional trip to the grocery store. Even with the days getting longer and the sun shining, we are hunkered down. We crave safety and security.

In short, the stage is actually set for hygge.

Create hygge today.

In The Little Book of Hygge, Danish author and CEO of The Happiness Research Institute Meik Wiking breaks down the multifaceted concept of hygge into practical suggestions. Some of them seem particularly vital at this moment, and — importantly — they cost very little time or money.

Experiment with these ideas and you may just find unexpected moments of joy, contentment, and security in these unusual and trying times.

1. Indulge your senses. While our worlds have gotten physically smaller, there is still much to notice and appreciate. Start by looking around your immediate environment. Is it pleasing to all of your senses? What sights fill you with good feelings? It could be a favorite family photo or flowers blooming outside. Take a moment to appreciate these things.

Going beyond sight: Can you play some soothing music? Light a scented candle? Eat something delicious? Snuggle your pet? Hold and sip a warm cup of tea? Wear something soft? (There is even a Danish word for those soft, comfortable pants that you'd never be caught wearing in public: hyggebukser). You may be doing some of these things already, but you’ll enjoy them much more if you spend a moment really luxuriating in the sensory experiences they create.

2. Create a nook. Craft a little hygge zone for yourself, one that makes you feel relaxed, safe, and cozy. It could be a corner of the living room that looks out onto nature. It could be your bedroom, softly lit and full of soft pillows and blankets. As summer comes, it could be a place where you set up a hammock in the backyard and savor the warm breeze.

It doesn’t need to be an interior designer’s dream. It just needs to make you feel safe and snug. If look around and realize that your home contains no hygge zones, can you create one? Comfort, security, and pleasantness are your goals – otherwise, there are no rules.

3. Embrace traditions. However small, rituals and traditions can provide a deep sense of safety, linking us to our lineage and culture while jogging warm memories. What simple rituals do you enjoy performing every day? Continue doing those.

Looking back further: What games did you play as a child? What recipes did your family make? What family stories can you recall? Consider reviving these traditions for a feeling of being rooted and secure. If you have children, passing these traditions on may provide an extra boost. Looking through old photo albums and reminiscing on warm or funny memories may also effectively connect you with your roots.

4. Go low-tech. Thanks to increased social media use, online schooling, and countless Zoom meetings, many of us are suffering from screen-fatigue and stress. Although screen-time is both a professional necessity and a social lifeline right now, it can also be incredibly draining. To free yourself from this overwhelm, carve out some dedicated time without screens. A socially-distant walk in nature. Working with your family on a jigsaw puzzle. Looking at the stars on a clear night. Allow yourself to be in the present moment without distraction.

For many of us, the stage is set for hygge. We are at home. We don’t have packed schedules. We deeply crave comfort, security, and a sense of well-being. This may be just the time to acknowledge that hygge is more than a trendy Danish buzzword, but a mindset that can help us survive these difficult times.