When I began this blog back in 2004, no one outside of Denmark really used the word ‘hygge’ and there definitely wasn’t blogs, articles, books and twitter handles dedicated to it. And my memory might not serve me well but I don’t think there were a lot of images being used to show it either. I think that was part because hygge really is a feeling and not a thing. Danes know this, people who want to sell it do not.
Now, it seems like every magazine or blog post has something to do with hygge. I’ve seen “top 10 hygge food” lists, hygge hair, how to buy a hygge living room and so on. The images are always the same – overly styled, sort of hipster, fluffy this, cup of coffee.
That highly styled, store-bought image? That’s not hygge.
What hygge really looks like is in the image above. It’s my mother on the right with my great aunt who lives in a care facility just outside of Copenhagen. Her little room isn’t fancy, styled, or magazine worthy. When we visited, we had the traditional Danish visit with coffee and a little sweet. Coffee was just the cheap kind from the home, housed in a plastic purple carafe and we had it in paper cups and the sweets weren’t home made but individually wrapped in plastic from a shop.
The room wasn’t prepped before we came so things were here and there but the basic tea light candles were lit of course, little plants were in the window and art collected over the years was all around. There was no designer furniture (you can see my mum sitting on a hospital bed) or dozens of pillows plumped up against perfectly white walls. It was a functional room with a few personal items that reflected my great aunt and made it feel like her home.
My two second cousins were also in this tiny room and for a few hours we snakke snakke snakke (chatted) and as we did, nurses and fellow residents came in and out. And each time someone came in, saw us all huddled around, drinking coffee and laughing, they would say “Det er sĂĄ hyggeligt” (this is so cosy). Hygge must have been said a dozen times over the course of the visit.
No one wished they were somewhere else, no one wished they had something more than what was there. In those moments there was no worry, just joy.
And that’s what real hygge is – a simple moment that feels so special, cosy, relaxing, loving or happy that you just need to call it out. It’s not about being fancy, or styled, or being in the best circumstances, or having the right things. It’s literally about being present enough to see how great a moment is, and give that moment a name – hygge.
I’m not against beautiful images and styled things at all. I love to both see these and take them but I am against all the sites, articles and posts selling the concept of hygge as if it’s something you can just buy and do and you’re done. It’s not a “lifestyle” as so many non-Danish posts try to make it out to be. It’s not one thing you can check off your list and your life is better. And it’s not always picture perfect.
Hygge in its simplest form is really about being present. It can happen several times a day, anywhere, anytime – all it takes is you. Nothing else.
I share this because I don’t like seeing comments from people who are looking for some kind of life fix and literally buy into a concept when they don’t need to. That is so the opposite of what hygge is and how Danes live. Thinking that hygge looks a certain way or can be gained by following 10 steps or buying 3 key items sets a person up for failure, I think. Like if they don’t do x,y and z they aren’t living the right “hygge” life. But Hygge is a little bit like Dorothy’s ruby slippers – you already have the ability to live well. You just need to take a moment to recognise it. That’s all.
So if you ever need a reminder that hygge is really simple and can be found in any circumstance, just look at this photo. It’s not the best photo ever, it’s not the prettiest, these are not people who have it all, but they’re people who were enjoying each other and the moment so much, that everyone could name it.
And they called it, hygge.