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What Hygge Really Looks Like

What Hygge Really Looks Like

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 sÃ¥ 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.



  1. LindaNo Gravatar
    July 31, 2017 / 6:10 PM

    thank you for writing this! It’s easy to slip into thinking if you just have this that or the other your life will be perfect. When in reality your one sentence sums it up perfectly “Hygge in its simplest form is really about being present.” Just try to live an intentional life. Stay present. Tomorrow isn’t promised.

  2. August 1, 2017 / 1:56 AM

    Exactly: living in the moment. Difficult to remember sometimes!

  3. August 1, 2017 / 3:54 AM

    Wonderful post. As someone who has recently learnt about the word “Hygge” since it’s pretty much everywhere at the moment, this is refreshing to read. It seems whenever something new is found they always find a way to box and sell it to the masses. But this type of thing can’t be sold.

  4. August 1, 2017 / 8:06 AM

    Yes, yes and yes! I chose hygge as one of my “words for the year”, and I have not bought a single item or changed anything in my home to try to attain it… I’ve just relaxed into enjoying things as they are with the ones I love. I’ve come to realize that hygge is a value that I hold dear, that it comes from the heart, and that it functions as a guide that helps me to make choices from moment to moment about how I want to live. Thanks for writing about the true spirit of hygge. I love that photo of your mum and her sister… it’s beautiful and so are they ♥ (and I love your mom’s outfit)

    • PamNo Gravatar
      August 1, 2017 / 9:30 AM

      Me too! But until this article I wasn’t able to clearly define it.

  5. Kim McMannNo Gravatar
    August 1, 2017 / 10:55 AM

    Yes, this is what I initially thought “hygge” meant when I came across it. But then, a quick internet search brought up all that hipster stuff and I was a little disappointed. I am so glad to see this and realize that yes, I did get it… it is what I thought! And like so many things, it’s now being commercialized into something to sell, rather than really understood! Thank you!!

  6. August 1, 2017 / 11:32 AM

    Alex, I just love this! I saw the two women and the pleasant decor and never saw the hospital bed until you brought it up. I love that people came and went and enjoyed being there. that is hygge as I’m beginning to understand it!

  7. NathalieNo Gravatar
    August 1, 2017 / 4:44 PM

    Thank you for saying everything I always thought my whole life! Living in the moment, surrounded by those you love and things you love. What could be better? 🙂

  8. Anders NorgaardNo Gravatar
    August 1, 2017 / 5:18 PM

    Det er da hyggeligt al laese om det,

  9. Anne GoldmanNo Gravatar
    August 1, 2017 / 8:29 PM

    I have had many similar hyggelige moments over the years. Thanks for making it clearer.

  10. CourtneyNo Gravatar
    August 2, 2017 / 12:43 AM

    Thanks for reminding us to live in the moment.

  11. LJNo Gravatar
    August 5, 2017 / 3:51 PM

    Absolutely. But this is the United States, the land of opportunity and commerce. It isn’t surprising that a philosophy of life, a certain way of living would absolutely be “hijacked” and turned into something saleable, marketable. Sad but true.

    Keep writing, Alex. 🙂

  12. August 13, 2017 / 10:59 AM

    I keep coming back to this to read and re-read it. We are in the middle of renovations right now, and I have spent so many hours pouring over decor styles trying to find the “right” look, and have been nothing but frustrated because I’ve stopped thinking about what I want and more what everyone else is saying things should look like. Thanks for the reminder of what hygge actually is, and the reminder that my home doesn’t need to look like a magazine picture. ♥

  13. August 17, 2017 / 4:04 PM

    Exactly!!! Thank you for writing this piece about hygge. I, as a Dutch Denmark lover, am not into the styled up version. Hygge can be felt with the heart, not bought or prepped. It’s all in the connection between people. I also wrote a small piece about it. Hygge is in you and in the moment. Wishing you lots of hygge stunder med snak og søde mennesker.

  14. KarenNo Gravatar
    September 2, 2017 / 3:10 PM

    Love this piece very much. Thank you for showing us an understanding of true hygge and that it is rooted in being in the present moment!

  15. Rebecca KirbyNo Gravatar
    September 4, 2017 / 3:58 PM

    Brilliant. So refreshingly honest.

  16. CarolynNo Gravatar
    September 20, 2017 / 10:55 AM

    Ugh, leave it to western culture (or totally lack thereof) to take something so simple and commercialize it until it spins out of control, and completely mucks up and distorts the truth. Everything you said…spot on. I’m not even a Dane, but I appreciate being PRESENT! My motto has been “present over perfect” (after reading a book of the same title), and it’s so refreshing and liberating to be just that. I have experienced lovely hygge moments and I look forward to more as they naturally unfold. Thank you for the reminder, as we are completely bombarded with the “rules of hygge”, that it is in fact not that; not a lifestyle. As soon as there are rules to something, it almost becomes a game of sorts – like who can “win” or who can do it the best. RUBBISH!

  17. November 9, 2017 / 1:24 PM

    This is such a beautiful and realistic article! I’m so happy you wrote it. As a non-Dane, I first thought, “Ooh, if I buy nice candles and play music and read and have x, y, z, I can be happy.” And you’re 1000% right. Last night was a perfect hygge night and I was wearing ratty PJs making dinner and my dad was relaxing in his recliner and our house was messy from our animals, but when my mom came home and we all sat and ate dinner I was filled with the most pure joy as if no moment could be better. I’d like to think this is hygge. This is fantastic and I’m totally guilty of ‘stylizing’ my comfort, so even though I’ll continue to do style photos, it’s nice to see the separation between what’s staged and what’s plain real life moments.

  18. Ann SlezewickNo Gravatar
    November 9, 2017 / 4:23 PM

    hygge-not sure how to pronounce it, but I say huggies….It sounds like it’s warm memories. Simple and perhaps unplanned.

  19. November 10, 2017 / 12:25 PM

    I loved this post. It is heartfelt and pure. And it reminds me that buying coziness and well-being and comfort isn’t possible if you’re brain is cluttered with ill-will, regrets, anger and so on. So beautifully said. Each phrase is repeatable. Thank you for sharing this personal glimpse into what is a precious gift from another culture.

  20. JesseNo Gravatar
    November 12, 2017 / 9:51 PM

    Hygge seems almost synonymous with gratitude. I’m I wrong? I just started looking into this after reading a book cover

  21. LauraNo Gravatar
    December 16, 2017 / 8:57 AM

    What a lovely description and photo describing “Hygge”! I’d never heard of it until this year, then suddenly heard it everywhere. I love that you used a photo from a scene in a nursing home to depict it. Your description reminded me of when I’d visit my 100-year-old grandmother in Cincinnati, Ohio, and her room too was so hyggeligt. We’d have tea in the few china cups she’d brought with her when she moved into the care facility and just sit and enjoy each other’s company. Thank you for sharing. Loved reading in your story how the residents and nurses would comment on how hyggeligt it was. I feel I really know what “Hygge” is now:)

  22. JillNo Gravatar
    December 29, 2017 / 1:08 AM

    I have enjoyed your photos, imagery, comments and resources to help create that “hygge” comfort in my home. Not changing much thus far, yet explaining to one son, some of the items out are what warms my heart, not what Western philosophy, magazines & television portray. I hope to utilize more personal items & restore or transform them into usable, items that reflect meaning and warmth in my heart, home, friends & family. It can be turning a meaningful photo into a breathtaking memory, with deep sensory perception of loved ones. Buying a photo to hang, is not nearly as meaningful as creating a collage or corner with charm & personal connections. Second hand items I picked up years ago, still bring joy to me and can be transformed into that warm “hygge” atmosphere. Creativity can rekindle and refine lost & forgotten treasures! Thank you for all you share, and may you always be encouraged to do so and blessed by the beauty of the gifts you share from your heart.Wishing you and all your readers an awesome “hygge” journey in 2018!

  23. Debbie Pinkham-SaltNo Gravatar
    January 10, 2018 / 2:33 AM

    “Hygge” reminds me so much of my Life of 30 years in the French West Indies.I had many Parisian Friends and one-Veronique whom I’ll never forget always said to me “You have to make your own private garden”.I think that saying is kind of like “Hygge” because it’s a concept,a feeling/life experience.I found a link about your Blog via Traders Point Creamery (whom I’m working with) and I could not but help but engrossing myself into “Hygge”.How delightful! I had wanted to locate to Topanga Canyon as a young 20 year old but circumstances changed and I ended up in the West Indies fulfilling many dreams I had about sailing.I love your style-I love your new place and that white desk-I know I have seen that somewhere and I’d wanted it but no more room right now although it is pretty and practical.I love everything about the new house-where do I start? Lavender, Rosemary,Meyer Lemon trees,that custom wallpaper that reminds me of Dalla Horses.Your Back Garden reminds me so much of Provence-in so much as the builder used locally sourced material and also the rock that became part of the front room which flows with the home.I’d never heard of a Wedgewood Cooker but it certainly is a stout looking one! I have a Design and Sign Firm in the West Indies,love designing,doing logos,ad-campaigns.No wonder I found “Hygge House” so interesting.

  24. CarolyneNo Gravatar
    January 12, 2018 / 5:13 PM

    THIS is why I like to come visit your blog~! Thank you so very much for your words. Lovely
    Family, making precious Memories, and recognizing the Joy of each Moment.♥

  25. Katie MartellNo Gravatar
    January 17, 2018 / 3:17 PM

    We were in Copenhagen several years ago and stayed in a very hygge bed and breakfast. We had a great time and found the Danish people to b3 very welcoming to foreigners. Looking forward to going back!

  26. January 29, 2018 / 11:19 PM

    I just want to say thank you for this great commentary! Wonderful!

  27. Martin WardNo Gravatar
    February 1, 2018 / 3:34 PM

    Finally, a word for those best moments in life! I have valued hygge when it happened but oddly never had a word to describe it or thought much about trying to attain or facilitate that state of being. Hygge always seemed too perfect to create intentionally. Being present, not dwelling on the past or the future, and just appreciating and rejoicing in the moment is undervalued in this world. I am now trying to create the atmosphere in my home where hygge can be more frequently and readily achieved It is certainly not something that can’t be forced or obtained since it flows out of a person at least as much as it comes in. I do believe though that environment plays a vital role in removing barriers to hygge and by providing comforts that help ease the transition into hygge moments. It is a fascinating subject to ponder and attaining a more hygge friendly atmosphere is a very worthwhile pursuit. I plan to enjoy the journey and the many (and hopefully increasingly frequent) hygge moments along the way.

  28. February 11, 2018 / 9:00 AM

    I love this — the first thing I noticed was the institutional bed and thought…hmmm. This is real life!

    Thanks for your candor and passion. (and snakke! What a great word)

    I’m linking to this post in my blog, so you might find some followbacks.

  29. PattiNo Gravatar
    April 8, 2018 / 9:55 PM

    You are a gifted writer. How beautifully you describe hygge. What a beautiful feeling and awareness of that feeling in special moments. A reminder that there is so much to be thankful for and how many moments in each day are we aware of these?
    Thankful to teaching me a new word(week, more than a word).

  30. October 26, 2018 / 4:23 PM

    I just Googled “hygge” to make sure I was spelling it correctly and came across your website. It’s lovely and I appreciate the way you’ve defined what hygge means! I am hosting a little candle exchange in my home for mom friends and wanted to make sure I’m capturing the word correctly, and I love that you said it’s a feeling. Helps me focus on the good company of our little gathering, and not just the fact that we’re going to purchase and exchange candles.

  31. LeahNo Gravatar
    November 10, 2018 / 9:54 PM

    Thanks for a beautiful definition of hygge. I have a friend who to me embodies this feeling – she lives so purposefully and I always feel this type of feeling around her. I want to give her a book about it but I don’t want to pick the wrong one and have it be that wrong focus you talk about above. Do you have any suggestions?

  32. S.No Gravatar
    February 24, 2019 / 2:20 AM

    I googled “hygge definition” and am so glad this is the article I read. I just learned a word for my soul.

  33. BarbaraNo Gravatar
    February 19, 2020 / 7:20 PM

    I was introduced to HYGGE without it being given a name. I had taken a group to my favorite county DENMARK, and was assigned a tour guide for the week. Everyone in my group thought we had known each other – our “ bonding” was that quick! We became closer friends and I often stayed with her when I was in Denmark on a travel related business trip. We would leave the city and go to her house after work, light a fire in the fireplace, have a glass of wine and catch up each other’s news. Then, fix a simple but home cooked meal and eat by the fireplace. Sometimes another friend would join us. Later, as our friendship grew, her family would all come to see me when I was there. It just “happened” but felt so
    Normal and Welcoming. To me – looking back. – that was HYGGE !

  34. November 4, 2020 / 6:48 AM

    This was wonderful.
    Just the thing I needed today <3 .

  35. BridgetNo Gravatar
    December 6, 2020 / 9:54 PM

    Thank you for the reminder and clarity. I read about this concept a couple of years ago and loved it. I wanted my home to feel this way so I looked for examples to inspire me. All I saw were high end homes filled with expensive furniture that I’ll never own (nor want to) that were picture perfect… and cold and fake. Basically they looked the opposite of hygge. I really appreciate your article. We need more reality based articles and images on the internet or we’ll continue to fall prey to fantasy-envy.

  36. June 9, 2021 / 6:21 AM

    I really love what you have written here. I am very sad but the fact is that, today, in many non-Nordic countries and cultures, “hygge” somehow becomes nothing but just some random Instagram-worthy pictures. Same things happen to many other aesthetic ideas and philosophical thoughts: Japan’s tea ceremony and Zen Buddhism, India’s yoga and its philosophy, Chinese Taoism and its emphasis on simplicity and the art of doing nothing… and many more. Once an idea is visualized, businessmen never miss the chance to materialize aesthetics and philosophy into something profitable but meaningless. Our modern world is very good at this – taking away the meaning of a certain idea, and replace it with illusion and phantasmagoria (they like to call them “style”) to help people achieve some fake self-satisfaction.

    I own a book cafe in Japan and its name is “hyggekrog”. People come to my cafe and expect to see some stylish Nordic design, beautiful furnitures , and high-class coffee but they are disappointed. I simply say goodbye to these random guests who don’t understand the essence of “hygge”.

    My cafe provides only two old wooden long tables, a few sofas with some cushions on them, some bookshelves full of books that I love, and very humble affordable coffee made by my humble coffee machine bought from Amazon. The reason I created my hyggekrog was to gather book lovers, and give them a welcoming space to chat and exchange ideas with each other over a nice warm cup of coffee, but not an Instagram-worthy or magazine-worthy stylish and chic cafe.

    I’m very tired of those people who misunderstand so many things about cultures, aesthetics, and philosophical ideas… yet still walk around as if they are experts. I wish people can slow down and truly study, understand and digest the essence of our beautiful cultures and these cultures’ raison d’etre.

    • alex at hygge houseNo Gravatar
      June 23, 2021 / 6:00 PM

      I so hear you on everything you said and agree. And I hope I can one day visit your cafe – sounds so perfect.