What is hygge?
My bestie recently remodelled her kitchen and moved some furniture in her living room. I plunked down on her couch and shouted ‘your couch is hygge now!‘ (pronounced hoo-guh, by the way). Her couch used to be in front of the big living room window and now it was perpendicular to it and you could sit and look out the window. It was the same couch as always but this simple act of moving it so the big window was on one side and her newly opened up kitchen on the other, it just felt….cozy, quiet, inviting me in while letting me view out.
So, my girlfriends and I have been talking a lot about hygge. It is a Danish word and it doesn’t have a direct English translation. But the underlying sentiment of it is the atmosphere of ‘connection, comfort and contentment’.
We see a lot of candles, cozy socks and hot drinks to symbolize hygge but hygge is much more than choosing comfort and slowing down. Hygge is the outcome of the political, educational and social climate in Denmark. It is part of who they are. Danes aren’t hustling or striving or performing. They are just enjoying the simple things because everyone is on a very level plane in terms of their socioeconomic status.
Hygge is sitting with your friends in a cafe and having slow conversations. It is being silently side-by-side your spouse eating peanut butter sandwiches by candlelight. It is a simple homecooked meal eaten on a warm bench with new friends. It is pulling in an arm full of fresh laundry off the line in the early sunlight. It is sitting on a blanket in the park reading a really great book. It is singing a song while you comb the knots out of your daughter’s hair.
One way I always feel hygge is when I turn off all the lights at night, I can hear the dryer humming in the basement and I go check on each of my kids in their beds – pulling covers up over their shoulders and smiling at their smushy faces.
I think some of us are naturals in one of these areas that make up hygge. I have one friend who knows how to set up the most inviting cozy spaces with attention to all the little simple details. I have another friend who can plunk down on my couch and be so invested in conversation that I feel like she gives our time together all her time and attention. I have another friend who is welcoming and content and can make any gathering have a feeling of warmth and kinship, even if it is in a parking lot on a tailgate.
Hygge is the invitation to gather, the beauty of the simple things, the heart of conversation, the details of hospitality.
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How it compares with minimalism
Minimalism looks very different for everyone. Some do it to be frugal, some to curate their possession to be top quality, some to be environmentally sustainable, some to rid their life of consumerism, and some to challenge themselves to have less and less. But Hygge seems to be a similar experience for all who embrace it. Where hygge and minimalism cross paths most often is when they focus more on the heart of living rather than the hustle of living.
In both minimalism and hygge possessions are kept because they are valued: they tell a story, they are useful or beautiful. With hygge though, the emphasis is more on keeping things that are meaningful while creating a hospitable and welcoming environment. This might look a lot different from minimalism, which focuses on items that are kept because they are of use or beautiful. Minimalism encourages having less, specifically less of the stuff that we don’t need. The minimalist might not keep the shelves of books if they can go to the library for books. The minimalist might not keep the momentos from vacations if they can turn them into a photo book. With hygge, there is a reverence for momentos and items that bring to mind wonderful memories and nostalgia. All in all, there is less room for ‘frivolity’ in minimalism but hygge has a core of the simple frivolousness.
Making a home
Minimalism and hygge have an emphasis on using your space for living rather than storage of your stuff. Spaces are kept clear for activities. Chairs are there for plunking into with a book. Tables are cleared off for gatherings. We see minimalism started by taking control of how we manage possessions in our home. Of course, minimalism carries over into how we live our life but hygge is more focused on viewing ‘home’ as a state of mind. With hygge, home can be found/made in the woods, in a workplace, in a backyard.
In minimalism, there is an emphasis on doing less of the stuff that you don’t love or doesn’t serve a purpose in your life. As a minimalist sorts through what is important in their home, they sort through what is important in how they spend our time. In reading about Denmark, it seems there is less of a ‘hustle’ culture in the workplace. There is less drive to increase your income or become a #ladyboss. Working overtime, through lunch breaks, side hustles, etc isn’t a way of life in Denmark in the way we see in North America. There might be a lean towards ‘productivity’ in minimalism and spending our time productively. In hygge, there is more of a lean to ‘presence’ and letting your life slow down. Hygge has a priority to set time aside for simply being with one another in a relaxed setting.
Both hygge and minimalism resist excessive consumption. There is a practical stance on using what you need. Both minimalism and hygge have a respect for things that are well made and practical. The difference I see here is that hygge is a culture that isn’t interested in luxury where minimalism might allow more space for buying luxury (though not every minimalist takes this approach with their possessions).
In reading about hygge, this is what struck me the most – because of the educational, political, and socioeconomic culture in Denmark, there is this sense of identity, a peace with oneself, that seems to be nurtured from childhood. I don’t think minimalism touches on the art of gathering or conversation, at least not to the degree that hygge does. When the Danes gather there is a harmony, a belonging, a trust, an ease. There is no competition, no need to show one another up, nobody needing to control the conversation or exemplify their status. There is a respect for individuality, giving full attention to one another, and allowing everyone mutual place in the conversation – regardless of age. This reflects their values of light-heartedness, equality and authenticity.
It’s not just about socks and candles
If you go on Pinterest and search ‘hygge’ you will see a lot of cozy fires, and wool socks, and candles (all the candles!). But when you really dig into hygge you will find it is a way of life. I read The Book of Hygge by Louisa Thomsen Brits and it was such a beautiful explanation of living out hygge that it has me plotting a trip to Denmark for the whole family one day.
One of my favourite quotes on hygge is from The Book of Hygge by Louisa Thomsen Brits:
“the pleasure is found in living hygge, not curating it, in the experience of the journey, not owning the map”