It’s Pronounced “Hooga.”
The Danish phenomenon of Hygge takes the world by (soft, cozy, sleepy) storm.
In 2016, the word was everywhere: hygge. Instagram feeds were bricked solid with photos of crackling fireplaces, adorable succulents in aesthetic clay pots, wool socks pulled high, and chunky knit blankets. A stylish coffee almost always factored in. So did dogs. Hygge had arrived with a subtle splash.
Years later, the aesthetic still populates influencer accounts. Enough so that comedian Bo Burnham even took a run at the cliché in his hilarious send-up song, White Woman’s Instagram. Like any movement that arrives with intensity, hygge (pronounced ‘hooga’ in its native Danish) is ripe for satire, but to the Danes it represents something more. With apologies to them, let me attempt to explain.
Hygge is not about what’s on the outside; it’s about creating ideal conditions for the inside.
Last week, we spoke about how important it is for mental health to be out in the community in our Birdsong post, but that can be easier said than done. The cold weather and early dusks of a northern winter pushes people indoors. Even spring and autumn can be challenging with diminishing light. At northern latitudes—like in Denmark—winter is devastating if not dealt with deliberately. One method? Get out in nature. Make the most of the darkest season.
If done right, being inside with a heck of a lot of hygge can be instrumental in refueling the inspiration tank. After all, modern life has accelerated the pace at which we move. We’ve been left less runway to bring the train to a stop.
At some level, though, we’ve all found our own brand of hygge in cozy. Pajamas are the beginner’s version. Comfort food is another. Cabin chic can be mistaken for peak hygge: warm wood tones, even warmer vinyl tones on the record player, cushions, pillows, and blankets.
Decidedly not on brand: the news cycle, politics, unhealthy food. Hygge reflects Danish values: a general pursuit of well-being and equality for every human. Optimism is cherished. Getting along considered better than creating division.
Hygge creates headspace. Headspace helps heal.
So now that you know what it is and how it helps, where do you find it? Here’s the hang up: it’s more deliberate than cozy. More involved than chillin’. Hygge—like all good things in life—often requires effort to establish. Sometimes, though, it happens in magically unexpected ways.
Just now, while writing this, a late spring storm deposited small, painful hail then gentle graupel on the roof of my home office. The icy pellets lit up my skin with sensation and I watched something so spectacularly normal that it stopped me. For a moment, I forgot about deadlines and bills and groceries. The pitter patter petered away eventually, and I emerged from that state. A brief respite from the weight of life we rarely escape…hygge.
Hygge can happen almost anywhere, but rarely does. The word itself literally means “to give courage, comfort, joy.” There can be no agenda, and it is always slow. There are no screens involved.
As with the hailstorm, hygge can involve the smallest of joys. It can also mean delving into deep conversation on the big themes in life. In any case, it requires a certain undefinable brand of introspection, or at least a willingness to observe the here and now, if only to escape it for just one moment.
Pleio (pronounced “play-o”) demonstrates hygge by creating human-first connections which provide courage, comfort, and joy to support patients onboarding onto therapy.