History of Hygge

Hygge is an interesting word. The etymological origins of it as well as its flexibility as different parts of speech m. It has been used as a noun and described as “a feeling of coziness” and “well-being” and as a verb meaning “to comfort or give comfort.”

Collins English Dictionary defines the word as:

“a concept, originating in Denmark, of creating cosy and convivial atmospheres that promote wellbeing.”

According to Wikipedia:

“The word hygge comes from a Danish word meaning “wellbeing”. But it is also speculated that hygge might originate from the word hug. Hug comes from the 1560s word hugge, which means “to embrace”. The word hugge is of unknown origin but is highly associated with an Old Norse term, hygga, which means “to comfort”, which comes from the word hugr, meaning “mood”. In turn, the word comes from the Germanic word hugyan, which relates to the Old English hycgan, meaning “to think, consider”.[1]

It first appeared in Danish writing in the 19th Century and has since evolved into the cultural idea known in Denmark and Norway today.[2] While hygge has exactly the same meaning in Norwegian as in Danish and is a widely used word in Norway (including in its derived forms, such as hyggelig), the emphasis specifically on “hygge” as an important part of their cultural identity is mostly a recent Danish phenomenon; in Norway “hygge” is just a word, similar in status to “cozy” in English-speaking countries.

 In both Danish and Norwegian, hygge refers to “a form of everyday togetherness”, “a pleasant and highly valued everyday experience of safety, equality, personal wholeness and a spontaneous social flow”.[3]

The noun hygge includes something nice, cozy, safe and known, referring to a psychological state.[4]


Comfort and Joy Seekers

It seems hygge means something slightly different from person to person not unlike many other emotionally-charged words. I personally interpret it as the comfort of community coming together and acceptance of one another. Of trying to generate enough inner-warmth to share with everyone I meet.

Of course, from a cynical standing point one could easily see the commercialization and consumerist opportunity since just like Christmas and Valentine’s Day, hygge is susceptible to being reduced to nothing but another highly sell-able commodity in a world that feels it could use a little cozy among the chaos. One cannot buy hyggee anymore than one can buy happiness. (Although cashmere blankets come close to both 😉 )

The Dr. Hyde Hiding in Hygge

Unfortunately, just as I was writing this post I also came across some even more disturbing hype for hygge. Hygge has recently been scapegoated as being utilized as an excuse and political tool to avoid dealing with complex or polarizing issues and masking xenophobic nationalism or mindless conformity and overzealous patriotism. They slyly do this by using the familiarity of home and hearth as a thin guise to attempt to shamelessly breed fear at the idea of anything or anyone different or new. That is not at all in the spirit of what hygge is meant to be about, in fact it’s the antithesis of all that. It saddens me that a few politicos have taken to this distorted agenda of their own narrow minds and attempt to subvert and exploit people’s enthusiasm and craving of comfort.

Reclaiming the Cozy

 The hygge I believe in isn’t prejudiced or exclusionary but rather about people from all backgrounds coming together and celebrating life even when times are hard.  I choose to use it as a means to be grateful for abundance and enjoy it as just a little reprieve from the messiness of life so that it will be easier to go back to the swirl of the everyday. Feeling a little stronger and healthier all the while, it’s casting light instead of cursing the darkness of ignorance.

This mindfulness to treat everyone with love, kindness and respect is the hygge I refer to and aspire to create. Whereas there is no comfort or cozy in prejudice. We are actually more united than we realize in our similar longings for a sense of family and home.  We can extend our welcoming embrace to everyone and make each other feel a bit more a ease.

Even if it is an amorphous myth or a fairytale we adults lullaby ourselves with to get through the long apothegmatic dark nights of the soul, it is a very much appreciated one and is harmless enough as escapism goes so long as one does so with open hearts and minds. Plus, one doesn’t have to buy anything at all.

Now after we got that out of the way let’s look at some light-hearted ways to be more hygge.