The word “hygge” (pronounced “hoo-guh”) is a Danish word that is gaining ground in the United States. In fact, Hygge was one of the runners-up for the Oxford Dictionary’s 2016 word of the year. It achieved this prominence alongside “adulting” (behaving like a grown adult) and “coulrophobia” (or fear of clowns).
Hygge doesn’t have a precise translation in English, but to understand it, imagine a warm fire, a hot cup of coffee, a cozy blanket and a loved one to cuddle. According to the New Yorker, “It derives from a sixteenth-century Norwegian term, hugga, meaning ‘to comfort’ or ‘to console,’ which is related to the English word ‘hug’.”
In Denmark, and Scandinavia as a whole, hygge is a cultural norm that embraces coziness and happiness. It’s a method of relaxation, to be sure, but also a way of life. The BBC quoted Hellen Russell, who wrote The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country.
“Hygge seems to me to be about being kind to yourself – indulging, having a nice time, not punishing or denying yourself anything,” Russell says of the practice. Here in the U.S., it’s a foreign, yet not unwelcome concept.
It’s a well-known fact that Americans don’t take as much vacation as Europeans do. Here in America, two weeks of paid vacation is standard, whereas in Europe it’s at least twice that. In addition to that, Americans work longer hours and retire later in life. In fact, ABC reported that the rest of the Western world views Americans as extremely diligent workers. So it’s no wonder that a concept that encourages self-indulgence and happiness would take hold here. A quick Instagram or Pinterest search of the term yields plentiful enticing results filled with warm blankets, comfy sweaters, hot beverages and warm fires.
It’s easy to see the appeal of such a word. Most of us stress over work and family obligations. We worry about getting the kids to extracurricular activities on time and making sure everyone is healthy and taken care of. It takes a toll. Imagine the stress melting away as you sit quietly and enjoy warmth, comfort and love. That’s Hygge.