Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Simply

Appreciating simple things may not always come easy in a society where owning expensive luxury items is often viewed as an indicator of success. As we are bombarded daily by hundreds of advertisements for cool new gadgets and objects, it takes some strength to call yourself a “minimalist” these days. Luckily, Denmark has found the secret to treasuring the beauty in everyday life by following the concept of hygge (pronounced “hyoo-gah”). Regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture, hygge brings people together in the art of living simply.

Voted as a finalist in Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year in 2016, hygge has been a hot topic in recent years. A plethora of media outlets, from the New York Times to lifestyle magazines, have mentioned hygge. Whether you’ve read about it in an article or this is the first time you are hearing about it, the wisdom that comes with knowing Hygge provides a clearer mind and closer relationships with family and friends.

Hygge is more than just a word. It represents joy in the little things, pure contentment and peaceful serenity in the present moment, no matter your financial status or material possessions. Anyone can experience hygge from anywhere in the world, whether it be at home, in the corner of a coffee shop or on a walk through your university campus.

Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Simply

The History of Hygge

While hygge has been embedded in the roots of Danish culture, the origin of the word is Norwegian. The original meaning of hygge was to “seek refuge, protection, and shelter from the raging of the outside elements.” The definition has changed a bit since its Nordic use, but we can clearly see the connection between the two meanings. The Danish hygge could be viewed as enjoying simplicity indoors — either literally inside or metaphorically in the mind — as the world rages outside.

The word hygge first appeared in Danish writing in the 19th century when the country went through a financial downturn. As Danes lost money and experienced more poverty, hygge was born as a way for communities to come together during a time of loss and feel better about their lives when spirits were low.

Today, hygge has taken on a slightly different meaning in Denmark, but the main premise stays the same. Enjoying time together and finding inner fulfillment in simplicity remains a defining aspect of hygge, although some older Danes would argue that it has become less about community and is now just a way to romanticize lounging around in front of the TV. Perhaps the younger generations are simply shaping hygge to encompass all moments in life, even when you are alone. Why not cherish binge-watching Netflix while eating your favourite snack? That would make anyone feel cozy and content.

Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Simply

What It Means to Practice Hygge

 The philosophy of “simple living” is embedded in the belief systems of several cultures around the world, especially Asia’s Zen lifestyle. The Danish way of hygge is similar because both ideologies focus on living in the present moment, but minor differences exist. While Zen practitioners might incorporate meditation and other mindfulness strategies into their practice and give up material objects to focus on living minimally, followers of hygge usually change nothing major about their belongings or ways of life, focusing only on feelings rather than tangible items, and learning to love what already is.

Hygge is defined by Dictionary.com as “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” When you think about it, this “feeling of contentment” can come from just about anything. We can feel content while savoring every herb and spice in a delicious bowl of pasta or we can delight in the collective laughter at a cinema. Hygge is noticing the tiny moments that are easy to skim over and forget about and reveling in the feeling for just a little bit longer, all the while thinking, “Life, right now, just couldn’t get any better than this.”

 To practice hygge, therefore, is to practice careful observation of our surroundings, and strive to love every single aspect of them. part of it. Our surroundings can include the food we eat, the people we meet, and the places we go. But the beauty of hygge is that it is so much more than just appreciating things — it is looking closely at what anyone else might find mundane and turning it into something bursting with love, flavour and charm.

Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Simply

Incorporating Hygge into Your Life

Incorporating hygge into your life is simple — literally, it’s all about simplicity! Since hygge is about the little things, seeing it applied to your daily routine does not require any tools or objects. It just requires your mind.

Setting aside quiet moments for reflection can help you recognize the tiny blessings already present in your life. You can do this in a small group, where everyone can exchange feelings and declarations of gratitude for each other or different things in life. Spending time with others, after all, is a wonderful way of appreciating moments of happiness, laughter and togetherness. However, being alone is probably one of the best ways to practice hygge because it allows us to fully capture the moment without getting distracted by obligations or the sound of voices. Sitting by yourself in nature or somewhere cozy indoors can give you that “hygge feeling.” You can use hygge to build a positive outlook in your life.

The modern day has also brought forth some obstacles to practicing hygge in everyday life. Smartphones, televisions and other screens have become easy vessels for distance communication, and yet they often keep us from spending valuable time with the loved ones we live with or see everyday. This raises the opportunity to put our electronics away for a few hours and spend undistracted time with family and friends, developing close bonds and strengthening our appreciation for those dear to us. Since a valuable part of hygge is putting increased focus on ordinary, daily interactions and viewing them as intricate and meaningful, it would be reasonable to consider putting away the electronics for a while as we put our full attention on those right in front of us.

Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Simply

Hygge is the art of finding beauty in simplicity. It encourages us to take time out of our days to breathe and be in the present moment. Most importantly, it allows us to see just how much we can make out of even the most mundane thing. The hygge lifestyle is one that we can thank the Danish for as they continue to be models of valuing the priceless parts of life.


  • Ashley Fernandes

    Ashley is a Canadian writer who specializes in various kinds of writing, from short stories and poetry to thoroughly researched articles.

    View all posts Canada
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