The Road Less Taken: More to hygge than cosy chocolate consumption

A warm drink and something chocolately, but is this really hygge (photo: Pixabay)
December 20th, 2016 5:00 pm| by Jessica Alexander

If you haven’t already been hit by hyggemania, you probably will be soon.

There have been nine books and counting launched on hygge in 2016 alone  – a year in which it was named one of the top ten words by both the Collins and Oxford dictionaries along with the likes of Brexit and post-truth.

I write about the power of hygge in my new book ‘The Danish Way of Parenting‘ along with a Danish psychotherapist, and with good reason, as what used to be a completely unknown and unpronounceable Danish word has transformed into a phenomenon that is sweeping the globe.

Get yer hoog on …
Hygge (pronounced hooga) directly translates to mean cosy or homey, but this does little to encompass the true breadth of what it is. So what does hygge actually mean?

I have heard British people regularly talking about “getting their hoog on”. This is apparently a trendy weekend activity for which they buy up wine and candles by the carload. Another woman told me she thought “getting her hoog on” was a great excuse to eat chocolate cake guilt-free, and others tie hygge directly to a good book and a woolly blanket.

Really, anyone’s interpretation is possible these days because you can literally purchase hygge-branded candles, incense, socks, woolly blankets, mugs, cushions and even furniture lines to ensure maximum cosiness.

A safe psychological space
While I find absolutely nothing wrong with scarfing down chocolate cake by candlelight with a good book and a woolly blanket (guilt-free), I can’t help but ask: is this really what hygge is all about?

It took me 17 years of experiencing hygge with my Danish family and friends to finally understand what I believe it actually is for non-Danes and why it is tied to happiness.

Hygge is about being present with the ones you love without having to put your guard up. It’s creating a safe psychological space where you leave your negativity, stress, complaining, judgment and controversy at the door for a period of time. It is a team effort and everyone has to try to create this space for it to work.

No ‘I’ in hygge!
These days you hear so much about mindfulness and how it benefits well-being. The way I describe hygge is ‘wefulness’. And this social connectedness that hygge guarantees is scientifically proven to boost our happiness levels.

These unspoken rules of hygge, however, are woven so tightly into the cultural fabric of Denmark that most Danes are unaware they even exist. Thus ‘getting your hoog on’ may look and sound cool on the outside, but it’s so much more than a cosy room on the inside.

It takes awareness and presence of mind to create a psychological safe space. But once you have achieved that wefulness with your loved ones, there is no cake, hot chocolate or woolly socks in the world that can hold a candle to it … even when there is a room packed full of them. Once you feel it, you’ll know.

For more on how to hygge, you can read the hygge oath here.

Jessica Alexander

Jessica is a bestselling US author, Danish parenting expert, columnist, speaker, and cultural researcher. Her work has been featured in TIME, Huffington Post, The Atlantic and The NY Times, among others. She graduated with a BS in psychology and speaks four languages. She currently lives in Italy with her Danish husband and two children.

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