(A purist speaks out on the meaning of Hygge)

A few years ago, a Danish word caught the attention of the international lifestyle community. This is not something that happens very often, and we Danes basked in the attention. We sang for our global suppers offering anecdotes about Scandinavian winters.  And we kept friends and colleagues amused with snap pronunciation courses.

But one thing is pronunciation. Another is comprehension. The absence of a word-to-word translation gave grounds for a myth-creation that was taken to the extreme once momentum slowed and the newly risen hygge-industry feared for its future.

Inevitably, things got out of hand and when I read in an American publication that hygge was about not discriminating against people on the grounds of etc. etc., I knew it was only a matter of time before critical voices would sound. The bar had been set too high. The concept had been stretched against its will. It couldn’t last.

And it didn’t. One day, a writer from a foreign land travelled to Denmark in pursuit of the mythical hygge creature. She returned home declaring that hygge was inward-looking.

Any Dane could have told her that.

So, let me set the record straight. I am not merely an authority on the subject. I am an expert of unrivalled knowledge and expertise, on top of my hygge-game, supreme in the field. And, like most Danes, I have been so since I was about three years old.

Hygge means feeling safe whilst enjoying oneself. It means leaving stressful thoughts at the door. It means not feeling guilty for sitting down, which is why you’ll often find a person engaged in the act of hygge sitting in spotless surroundings occupying one small, untidy area. There may be sweep-wrappers, magazines and a greasy remote control in their immediate vicinity, but the wider surroundings will be immaculate because the ‘hygger’ cleared the room and their conscience before starting to hygge.

Hygge is precious, not due to mystery but because it comes in time frames. Part of its thrill lies in the fact that it’s temporary. Like comfort TV on a Sunday night, hygge comes to an end and soon you will have to face the world again.

You will have been told that ‘hyggers’ surround themselves with candles and treats. This is true. But hygge is a state of mind more than a list of things to do or eat. When eating is involved, the diet is varied. Although there are those to whom hygge equates sugar-infused face-stuffing, others feel a walk on the beach followed by a handful of almonds with Aloe Vera juice is hygge.

Somebody will have told you that hygge means ‘togetherness’. They were lying. Either because they were trying to big-up hygge’s reputation or because they didn’t know what they were talking about.

Of course you can hygge as a group. But you can also hygge alone. In fact, hygge is a reflexive verb that works in the singular as well as the plural. Just don’t confuse hygge in your own company with ‘me time’. Hygge is a concept, not a lazy word combination. But more importantly, whereas ‘me time’ gives associations to pedicures and worthy books, hygge comes without the obligation to sanitise or educate. That’s the point. Yes, hygge can mean reading good books, but it can also mean watching reality TV or bitching on the phone with a friend whilst gulping down red wine and filling up an ashtray.

And don’t worry about your outfit. Hygge wears random clothes picked for comfort as opposed to style.

Hygge is not done for the greater good. It doesn’t make you a good or a bad person. It has no political, ethical or spiritual message – it’s a shrug in the face of motivational quotes.


Mette Jolly is co-editor of funnypearls.com.  She doesn’t always know what she is talking about. But when it comes to hygge. She. Does.