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What is “Hygge” and what Does it Mean?

In the aim to live a calmer and more serene life, people are turning to some ancient and traditional practices. Meditation has been a common form of relaxation for decades and has recently made its way into the mainstream. More recent, many have adopted mindfulness as a relaxation technique to calm the mind of stress and anxiety, especially since NICE began extolling its virtues. Both have helped low-level mental illness. Now there is a new contender. Called “hygge” the Danish practice became so popular so quickly that it became one of the OED’s words of the year for 2016.

Explaining Hygge

HyggePronounced “hoo-guh”, there is no English translation so it’s likely to be adopted into English as it is. Surprisingly, it’s not originally a Danish word, but Norwegian. Most of our words come from the Germanic languages so it’s likely to become part of English in time. Hygge is “the art of creating intimacy” by yourself, with friends and with others. Essentially, it is about creating and maintaining connections with the people and the world around us. It is cosiness, a feeling of contentment and security, and life simplicity all in one.

Hygge is simply experiencing and enjoying a moment on your own or with company. There are no rules. It doesn’t require the constant practice of anything towards some sort of ideal. You don’t need to buy anything or adopt anything as a lifestyle. In a way, it is like mindfulness practice but it doesn’t have tasks or require getting into a right mindset for the moment.

Arguably, too few of us are living for the moment – being swept along in our busy lives. We spend lots of time on social media. We have fast lives, eat fast food and want everything done yesterday. In a way, hygge is about reversing this trend that potentially damages our well-being.

How Does Hygge Work?

There is a general belief that the Scandinavians (and the Danish in particular) are the happiest people in the world. Consequently, hygge is seen as one of the reasons for this. In taking time out to enjoy the simple pleasures, we are able to reconnect with the world around us. Through hygge, we are encouraged to make the ordinary extraordinary and appreciate the simple for their complexity. Hygge can be any number of the following things:

  • Taking a break from work to enjoy a cup of tea or coffee rather than at the work desk
  • Lighting candles and creating ambience in your living space
  • Sitting on a beach and enjoying the sun on your face and the sand between your toes
  • Taking time to enjoy a meal and savour each flavour of every mouthful
  • Self-pampering (a haircut, manicure, pedicure, a bath or shower)

Can it Help Relieve Stress or Mild Depression?

It is said that the Danes invented hygge to relieve to boredom and low mood of winter – colder, darker and wetter than we get in the UK. Denmark gets 17 hours of darkness in the dead of winter. Even the summers don’t get particularly warm compared to other parts of Europe. We all know that low light levels can affect mood. It seems that the hygge concept began as a way of relieving the stress and low mood associated with winter. Most of us suffer then, but hygge is not just for winter. It’s a great idea for all the year round in these fast-paced times.

We must urge caution about the medical benefits of hygge as with most things. It is a form of mindfulness and this has been proven to help some people with some low-level mental health conditions but is not a cure for depression. Anything that can help people live a more fulfilling life is always worth a try.