Here for the Hygge

IKEA. It’s infamous here in Houston for long lines, impossible parking, labyrinth-like store layouts, painfully vague instruction booklets and questionable (yet delicious) meatballs. 

Some of us love it, some of us hate it, and some of us are just trying to decide which of its products are still cool enough to keep in our homes as we grow up. But despite possessing the power to frustrate us with endless assembly sessions and relationship-limit-testing only rivaled by reality TV, IKEA gets one thing right. It’s the one thing IKEA products are designed for, and it’s something we all need and crave even though most of us never think about it and probably don’t even know what it is. It’s called hygge.

Hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) is the cornerstone of that Danish happiness we all hear so much about. It’s the coziness, bonding, candles, soft blankets, hot comfort food and all the warm fuzzy feelings combined into one aspirational way of life. And in Denmark, they take it very seriously.

It’s not a word that can easily be translated to other languages, but it’s kind of like receiving a loving hug from the room you’re in. Denmark’s culture is obsessed with hygge the way Americans are obsessed with freedom. And even though IKEA was founded in Sweden, over 600 miles away from Denmark, it’s so invested in hygge that it’s actually running a contest right now to send one lucky winner over there to investigate it and report back.

Take one quick browse through the catalog, and you’ll see it. Ambient corners of warm lamplight, fluffy textures, neutral colors, lived-in linens, and candles. So. many. candles.

It’s important to know that hygge isn’t just about interior design, and it’s not as simple as plain ole’ coziness. In The Little Book of Hygge, written by Meik Wiking (CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen), hygge is made up of 10 components called “The Hygge Manifesto.”

  1. Atmosphere: turn down the lights.
  2. Presence: Be here now. Turn off the phones.
  3. Pleasure: Coffee, chocolate, cakes, candy. Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!
  4. Equality: “We” over “me.” Share the tasks and the airtime.
  5. Gratitude: Take it in. This might be as good as it gets.
  6. Harmony: It’s not a competition. We already like you. There is no need to brag about your achievements.
  7. Comfort: Get comfy. Take a break. It’s all about relaxation.
  8. Truce: No drama. Let’s discuss politics another day.
  9. Togetherness: Build relationships and narratives.“Do you remember the time we…?”
  10. Shelter: This is your tribe. This is a place of peace and security.

Hygge is all about getting that oxytocin flowing. It’s casual, unhurried and full of guilt-free indulgences. When I think of trying to incorporate hygge into my life, I can’t imagine trading in the networking opportunities with strangers and late nights working on passion projects for a nightly fireside cuddle sesh with hot beef stew. But I get it. Here in the US, we work until we burn out and fight with our friends about politics and eat drive-thru dinners alone in SUVs on the freeway, and most of that isn’t very good for us.

Let’s face it—we could all stand to spend more time at home cooking up a slow meal, or getting coffee with our cousins, or taking in the glow of a golden hour in the afternoon. So I invite you to take a little hygge inventory of your life and ask yourself what sort of coziness/togetherness/happiness you might be missing. The Little Book of Hygge is full of easy tips, recipes, seasonal activities, crafts, and even a Hygge Emergency kit (spoiler alert—the first item is candles.) But if you don’t have time to read the book, you can always start by picking up a new lamp from IKEA, inviting some friends over, lighting a few candles and getting into your kitchen for an evening. It doesn’t take much. As writer Louisa Thomsen Brits put it,

“Hygge is about having less, enjoying more; the pleasure of simply being. It is generous and celebratory, a way to remember the importance of the simple act of living itself.” 

Natalie Wells