Denmark is often cited as the world’s happiest nation – and one has to wonder why. Geographically, this country is prone to long, difficult winters. Their days include few hours of sunlight. It rains about half the time, but the Danish disposition remains a sunny one.
How do they do it?
Systematically, there are measures in place that increase their levels of joy and fulfillment. Denmark is known for having generous policies when it comes to health care, education, and maternity leave. Their high taxes are balanced by a high degree of social mobility and low income inequality. Few Danes live in poverty, and family is prioritized more significantly than in most western nations.
The greatest contributor to the Danish happiness index, however, might be their cultural value of hygge.
Hygge, pronounced “HUE-gah”, does not have a direct translation in English. It is a concept more complex than a single action or value, and yet very simple in its daily implementation. Hygge encompasses all things that feel cozy, comfortable, and restorative to the soul. It’s enjoying a mug of hot cocao by the fireplace under a warm blanket. It’s snuggling with your dog while you read a good book. It’s sharing a pot of macaroni and cheese with your young children.
Hygge is about slowing down, filling up, and immersing oneself in the simple warmth of everyday life.
“The secret to hygge lies in paying attention to the rhythm of our daily lives,” says Louisa Thomsen Brits, author of The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Well. Think of the stressful moments in your day. Do you dread your morning rush? Find a way to inject it with hygge. Make a habit of sitting down for breakfast as a family with a plate of pancakes. Fight the bitter cold by cocooning yourself in a super soft sweater. Take the edge out of your morning commute by listening to your favorite book on tape. Bring a mug of hot apple cider to a tedious meeting. Brighten a rainy day with some fun rain boots. Use simple joys to bring comfort and coziness into an otherwise unpleasant task. Soon you may even find yourself looking forward to these moments as restorative points in your day.
Hygge should not be a solo endeavor.
“Hygge is about connection,” explained Thomsen Brits. “It happens whenever we gather in a wholehearted, inclusive way.” After all, isn’t spending time with our loved ones truly the most effective way to warm and strengthen the soul? Snuggle up with your family and watch a movie. Cook spaghetti for your friends instead of going out. Turn off the TV and break out some soft blankets and sweet treats. Learn more about the people you love. Cherish your time with them in a conscious – but relaxed – way.
Whenever possible, turn these moments into rituals. Routines create a sense of comfort and stability in a world that often leaves us unbalanced. Spend Saturday mornings snuggling under the covers as a family, rather than rushing between errands and chores. Cook a favorite meal every Wednesday with a small group of friends. Embrace holiday traditions. Create a nightly routine that helps you to wind down after a long day – mine includes a warm bubble bath, a candle, and a soft robe. These small rituals aren’t only sensory luxuries. They force us to slow down and restore ourselves. They heal the mind, body, spirit, and even the soul.
“Happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasures that occur every day, than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom,” explained Meik Wiking in The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living. What everyday moments can you improve – or create – by embracing this value? How can you use it to warm up your life?