What is hygge? The quickest answer would be something like "cosy." But the real meaning of hygge runs deeper than that in Denmark. Pull up a chair, let's get comfortable and talk all about it.
We'll even learn how to pronounce the word hygge, too, while we're at it.
See also: how to spend two days in Copenhagen.
WHAT IS HYGGE? THE MEANING OF HYGGE WILL WARM YOUR SOUL
In Copenhagen, hygge is the honeyed word on everyone’s lips, an audio mashup of “huggy” and “ooh-ga.” The rain may fall and the Viking statues may howl, but in coffee shops, breweries and even hotels, modern Copenhagen is all about hygge.
“But what does it mean?” I asked a giant dressed in leather overalls as he explained the organic ethos of his restaurant in Nørrebro.
“I'm not sure if there’s an English word for it,” he replied. “But the best translation would be ‘cosy.’”
Finding Hygge in Copenhagen
After arriving in Copenhagen feeling battered and bruised, hygge sounded good. My first glimpse of the city revealed a leaden sky, the sort that often spreads itself across damp and drizzly Britain. Flanking the station, massage parlours, dance clubs and posters promised to “make your wet dreams come true.”
How do you pronounce Hygge?
It's a Danish word so you need to take a deep breath and go for it: HOO-gah!
Shivering past all that, I stepped in to the Axel Guldsman for my first taste of hygge. Nominally a hotel, I wondered whether I’d ended up in some high-tech eco sorority house. People laughed and chatted, sharing pomegranate salad and coffee in warm and low lit spaces. It felt...cosy.
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Hygge as a Lifestyle in Copenhagen
The next day, I met up with Thomas Meier Lorenzen, an event coordinator in the city.
“Copenhagen has a problem,” he told me. “The city has changed so much that people don’t want to leave. Before, when families had children they would move into the suburbs but now everyone wants to stay.”
“And why is that?” I wonder. “Is it because of the art? The parks? The, er, Little Mermaid...?”
“It’s because of the atmosphere,” he said as another fleet of duffel-coated cyclists sped past. “It’s the hygge.”
Hygge is not just for Christmas...
Hygge is a year round idea, despite all those photos of roaring fires and cosy sweaters.
Anne Louise Leth, a young reporter from Politiken, added, “Copenhagen is all about going out with friends. That’s when you see the city come alive.”
As I was in town alone for a conference, that was just what I wanted to hear.
Top Hygge Spots in Copenhagen
As it turns out, hygge comes in many different forms. There’s Ricco’s, the tiny white coffee shop that’s about the size of a staircase.
There’s the smoky McKluud pub where we managed to spot a celebrity (though the anecdote would have been stronger had I known who on earth it was.)
There's Michelin-starred Kiin-Kiin, a jewellery-box Thai restaurant that oozed hygge and even Green Square, an outrageously enormous antique furniture shop, dished it out in the form of canapés and flowing wine.
Everywhere I went, everyone talked about hygge.
“We want people to feel comfortable, to feel at home,” said Jespes Stougaard, a man who moved to Copenhagen from rural Jutland to follow his dream. With friends, he now runs Dyrehaven, a rustic restaurant and bar, where a happy blogger could while away the hours with a supply of real ale and the gift of free wifi...
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The Hygge Books and The Backlash
But outside Copenhagen, the Danish meaning of hygge has run into trouble.
It all began with The Little Book of Hygge, by Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen.
More books followed, like Hygge: Unlock the Danish Art of Coziness and Happiness by Barbara Haden and How to Hygge: The Nordic Secrets to a Happy Life.
Did everyone become all hygged out?
Of did a hygge fatigue set in, a sense that someone had cashed in quick and corrupted an authentic and otherwise good thing in the world?
Or were the cynics simply being cynical?
If all it takes is a candle and a warm blanket to feel better, that shouldn't be sneered at. That should be celebrated!
Sure, that may not tell the whole story of hygge, in an authentic, grass-roots manner. But so what?
If it makes people feel better and doesn't hurt anyone else, then it's all good in my book.
Easy Ways to Bring Hygge Home
- Start with the idea of making your home space welcoming and warming. Not just to visitors, but to yourself.
- To that end, enjoy the things that you enjoy! Sometimes, it can be that simple.
- Think about what would make other guests or family members comfortable: seats at different heights, blankets, water, shades on the window.
- Enjoy your food! Don't deprive yourself and don't eat junk. Eat good, nourishing, tasty stuff. Cake allowed!
- Yes, use candles and twinkling lights, soft throws and furry cushions if it works for you. Don't it it doesn't.
So how did you enjoy this article on finding the meaning of hygge in Copenhagen? Do you have any tips for how you can bring hygge home? If so, do share!