The greatest hazard of all, losing one's self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss-an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc.- is sure to be noticed.
At the heart of hygge is an experience of belonging and a sense of connection. It's most often associated with being in the company of others, but we can enjoy hygge alone.
Hygge satisfies our natural longing to belong. Like the emergence of fireflies, when we hygger we shine individually but glow in unison to reveal an inclination toward a powerful collective harmony. It is a practice that connects our individual experience, our feelings of mutuality with others, our collective ideals, and the tangible qualities of objects, spaces, and places.
Hygge can be found in the settings where we feel most comfortably human, that give us context, offer identity, relation, and history. We hygger on our porch swings, armchairs, doorsteps, and in our beds, local bars, village halls, and bookshops.
To be in a situation characterized by hygge is to be in a state of pleasant well-being and security, with a relaxed frame of mind and an open enjoyment of the immediate situation in all its small pleasures. It is a state one achieves most often with close members of one's social network-with one's family, extended family, and friends.
Judith Friedman Hansen
The importance of place
Life in Denmark is harnessed to community, and Danes grow up with a strong sense of connection to their home, their street, their country.
Hygge is a phenomenon that reflects our way of inhabiting the world. A sense of interconnection is the glue that binds us in an experience of hygge-to each other and to place.
When we hygger, we feel firmly located-secured and present. We thrive on a strong sense of place. Our souls are fed by the predictable rhythm of returning to settings that are comforting in their familiarity-a local coffee shop, a particular tree, an aunt's quiet apartment, a regular swimming spot.
The routines that shape our days locate us-from the places we visit to the small rituals that give us pause. Drinking tea first thing in the morning from a favorite mug, or stopping for a glass of wine on a friend's balcony on the way home from work, confirm our feelings of rootedness. Noticing the distinct characteristics of a place and taking notice of the changing seasons makes us feel an integral part of our environment.
Wherever we gather in the spirit of hygge, whether it's beside a barbecue on a beach or around a table in a bar on a cold autumn night, we feel anchored.
When we hygger, we unwrap a package of good feelings to share and offer each other, signs of encouragement and symbols of inclusion; we make arrangements that provide warmth, shelter, nourishment, and comfort-by doing something as simple as lighting a candle at the table, pulling up chairs to sit together for a shared meal, or taking cake into the office and inviting others stop for long enough to enjoy a slice with a cup of coffee.
Circle of warmth
To hygge is to create an enclosing circle of warmth by establishing an inclusive, relaxed atmosphere and a single point of focus to secure and celebrate the passing moment. The primal comfort of an open fire and good company on a dark night are the epitome of hygge. A cluster of people sitting beneath the encircling glow of a pendant lamp hung low over a table is a common sight in Denmark-the light seems to hold everyone together, to define them as a unit.
Hygge is a physical and psychological clustering together for affirmation and a sense of belonging.
In Denmark, most gatherings are patterned by a cluster of people sharing a single focus of awareness that everyone helps to sustain-commonly a table surrounded by people pressed together and united in maintaining conversation, like keeping a fire burning in the hearth.
Danes prefer to gather in limited numbers rather than in large, expansive groups, to emphasize the unity of their small circles. Bubbles of interaction are everywhere-outside on a street lined with cafs, and in the privacy of their homes. Everyone creates their own groups, their own foundations for hygge. Although it's a pattern of behavior that the Danes have carefully honed, it's a non-verbal vocabulary that belongs to us all. Hygge happens wherever people gather in a wholehearted and inclusive way, whether it's an unexpected encounter on a sidewalk or a birthday celebration in a kitchen. Hygge is about human connection.
The centripetal force of mutuality, warmth, and enthusiasm that binds a group is sometimes intimidating and impenetrable. There are times when we find ourselves in the role of a stranger standing on the margins, examining everything that seems to be unquestionable to members of an inner circle. Feeling excluded from a group is uncomfortable. Feeling trapped inside one is equally disquieting. There is the downside that the Danish style of socializing could be considered exclusive.
But hygge is a process that usually draws a person in and invites engagement. In the face of tensions that threaten to pull families, friends, and colleagues apart, an experience of hygge helps bind us together.
Hygge can often be distilled to an experience of kinship, of being with those who understand us and signal that we are wholly accepted.
True kinship takes a warm heart. In essence, it is about being together, deeply honestly. We talk about love so much but we forget that it is something we give rather than get: a way of being.
There is an honesty to a hyggelig encounter that echoes the dynamics of ideal family life. Hygge and our ideas of family are interwoven, both associated with care and intimacy. Many of us think of family as a place that satisfies the heart. Addressing the needs of the heart, warmth, amity, and belonging are the essence of what we experience and offer when we hygger. We feel warmed when we step into a hyggeligt environment. We can be unguarded, carefree, and willing to be seen.
If we're fortunate, we can be our most unselfconscious with our relations and those who share the places we inhabit-our homes and our communities. The word inhabit comes from a root that means to give and to receive, and hygge stems from reciprocity and love.
Considering family togetherness seems promising for understanding hygge in its most basic form. . . . When we refer to hygge, we are using the concepts of home and family to think with.
Jeppe Trolle Linnet
Family is cherished in Scandinavian culture, and even though it is far from reality in many places, the ideal of a stable family remains a touchstone for many Danes. Regardless of its shape, modern family is seen as a place of intimacy and integration that can prepare and restore each family member for encounters with the outside world.
In Denmark, professional environments often display the qualities that many of us would associate with a familial context-informality, casual dress, and comfortable furniture arranged to encourage familiarity and diminish isolation. Danish working culture is based on open communication, collaboration, and flat hierarchy. Danes are innately skeptical about the value of strategic maneuvering at home or at work. They desire to be seen in the fullness of who they are, wherever they are. Employees are considered team members. Each person is expected to take their personal responsibilities seriously in return for influence and the degree of flexibility required to have a career without compromising work-life balance.
Knowing that our individual contribution is recognized and working together as a team give us a sense of belonging. With mutual trust and comfortable dialogue, work can be an experience of hygge for as long as it's possible to maintain an even and comfortable pace. If we become too busy, our time cramped with many activities, hygge disappears but is easy to reignite by pausing for coffee or making a habit of stopping to eat lunch together.
There's a freedom of self-expression implicit in hygge that rests on reciprocity and mutual trust. Embedded in an experience of hygge is a shared belief that good things will happen, and that all members of a group will be given equal voice and offered recognition. Everyone present is considered part of a greater whole. Each person wants everyone else to feel good.
Understanding that we are welcome encourages us to let go and allow ourselves to be seen without the need to perform or scramble for attention.
Hygge invites feelings of harmony and mutuality that overcome barriers and facilitate communication; we no longer feel separate when we hygger. The shape of family life has changed; many of us live alone. We look for belonging and connection in our local communities-in cafs, corner shops, and restaurants. We can hygge to help bridge the space between being alone and feeling lonely.
Participants experience a "social intimacy" and a basic "trust" in the inclusiveness and good intentions of the other people present. Hygge cannot be achieved if there is disagreement and conflict in the group or if there is a sense of distrust between people. Furthermore, situations characterized by hygge eschew graveness and seriousness.
We usually hygger to establish a human factor in our lives, to enjoy the warm aura of friendship and the security of kinship, the benefits of shared activity, physical closeness, and the warmth of proximity.
A rich social life (measured by quality of experience rather than quantity of friends) contributes to good health, happiness, and longevity. So many of us place value on hard work, measurable achievement, and wealth, and often fail to set aside time to nurture our relationships and strengthen social ties. We make the mistake of believing that security is found in material things rather than people.
In concentrating on friendship and empathy, in paying attention to our relationships with people and place, we address the needs of our environment-the society that we live in and our planet. Sustainability depends on community-when we learn to be happily reliant on each other, we're less likely to turn to material consumption to meet our emotional needs.
Belonging to the moment
Hygge helps us to enter a moment or a place. By appealing to our senses and promising security, it draws us in, attuning us to the spirit of a location, inviting us to relax and connect to ourselves and to others. It facilitates a sense of being fully present and opens us to the pleasures of the occasion.
There is a slight anxiety implicit in hygge that heightens our experience of belonging to the moment-the knowledge that there is a world of activity and responsibility just beyond the instant, poised to impose, intertwines with our situation, enlivening us to its particulars and pleasures. The flip side of an experience of enjoyment is the certainty that it won't last forever. Today's moment of hygge will be tomorrow's memory. With that awareness, we give ourselves over to the moment more completely.
It must be emphasized that hygge entails commitment to the present moment and a readiness to set distractions aside.
Judith Friedman Hansen
Hygge is evoked in situations where there is nothing to accomplish but letting go to the present moment in a way that's more aligned to simple pleasure than deep reflection.
Experiencing a sense of presence and belonging is challenging when we're stressed or distracted. Hygge isn't the complete absence of the usual demands of a fully engaged human life, but it is facilitated by a willingness to put down our problems and abandon our cares for a while.
At the heart of hygge is a willingness to set aside time for simply being with people and, ideally, having all the time in the world for them. Hygge is a vehicle for showing that we care. It's a way of paying attention to our children or partners and friends in the messy reality of the here and now, and putting down the distractions that pull us in different directions. So many of us are drawn to a virtual world of connectivity. Hygge isn't about a life without technology, but it asks us to balance our commitments and remember the value of human interaction, conversation, and physical intimacy. It liberates us to fully inhabit the moment without feeling compelled to record it.
Spontaneity and immediacy characterize hygge, as does a willingness to accept our differences and enjoy an atmosphere of tolerance and peace.
The salient feature of hygge is the atmosphere of warm and relaxed enjoyment of the moment which it allows. While it is nurtured by thoughtfulness and mutual involvement, hygge is informal and unrestrained.
Judith Friedman Hansen
When we feel held by the atmosphere of a place or captured by the pleasure of an encounter, hygge is being evoked. Atmosphere binds us together, weaves us into the particulars of a place, and makes us feel at home with ourselves and with those around us.
Belonging to ourselves
Achieving the serenity and freedom of feeling that we belong to ourselves, wherever we are, is a common concern in our mobile lives. The practice of hygge can instill stability of presence, a state of awareness and ease, by creating a frame around us, offering us comfort, giving us a point of focus, and allowing us to relax enough to be ourselves.
Hygge relies on us finding a balance between self-containment and wholehearted participation, personal liberty and awareness of the needs of others. It connotes a caring, civilized mode of behavior that builds companionable ease and trust.
The most common form of despair is not being who you are.
In Denmark, the ability to be at peace with oneself is a character trait that is highly respected. A person who simply lives up to their own standards and appears at ease in their environment, who seems to eschew jostling for a place in social hierarchy and competitive behavior, is described as able to hvile i sig selv-rest in oneself, be comfortable in one's own skin. It is a quality that suggests an inner stability of identity that is not dependent on attention or status. It is a quality that suggests an inner stability of identity that is not dependent on attention or status. People who are innately comfortable hygger with ease. They are less self-conscious or immersed in self-presentation and unlikely to indulge in one-upmanship. Those who are prepared to leave their problems at the door, who aren't preoccupied with the concerns of their lives outside of the hyggelig sphere also support the dynamics of hygge. Holding on to our identity is a challenge for all of us. Often it is easier on home ground where we operate in a knowable sphere. And easier in a country like Denmark where there are not huge disparities between people, so their identities are less likely to be usurped by their social or professional position.
Copyright © 2017 by Louisa Thomsen Brits. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.