How to Hygge and live Like a Scandinavian

How to hygge and live like a scandinavian

It is a few years since the world woke up to the Hygge buzz word. A raft of coffee table books on the subjects were published, including the famous Little Book of Hygge. But it’s been our way of life forever. Here we explain how to hygge and live like a Scandinavian – but, first, it’s probably quicker to say what hygge is NOT… It’s not about stress and drama, it’s not about competition and certainly not about being a success. Hygge is a low-maintenance form of entertainment and living.

The main ingredient is YOU.. Some people think hygge is about all things Scandi – white, minimalist and functional things bathed in bright light. It isn’t. Hygge is NOT about clean lines and chrome interior. It’s NOT about Ikea or Arne Jacobsen’s iconic Ant Chair, or even the Sydney Opera house, designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon. Neither is it about Noma, officially the world’s best restaurant in Copenhagen. And forget about other fashionable brands such as Pandora jewellery, Skagen watches, Arne Jacobsen chairs and Day Birger et Mikkelsen dresses.

What exactly IS Hygge? The Hygge gene explained

Hygge is about what you DO with the things above…It IS about your evening with friends at Noma or your shopping experience with friends or solo.  It’s about the experience, rather than the product. Things make Hygge distinctly Scandinavian – but they are not essential. 

Hygge provides a sense of community and of belonging to a group of people – your family, friends or colleagues. But it also promotes camaraderie with strangers if you get talking to them at the pub. Ironically, as real life community has become increasingly difficult, even unobtainable for many people. As the world gets ever more complicated politically and financially, some people feel alienated and confused about where they belong. The internet may bring people closer to eachother – closer if you live far apart .

Hygge, Scandinavia, a Sense of Community and the Internet

The web also puts more distractions in our way. Hygge is a way of hanging on to our community. Not by posting memes and updates on Facebook and Instagram.  Hygge doesn’t exist on the internet, it can only be created in real life and by actually being together. Looking at each other on a computer screen is a pale substitute. To read more about how Hygge can change your home life too, check out post here: Love being at Home – How Hygge can change your Life.

hygge group of friends at a restaurant

The other Scandi Word…Pyt! What does it mean?

There’s a new buzz word which is part of Hygge – the word is ‘pyt’. It means ‘not to worry’. ‘It’s ok, nothing we can do about it’. ‘Onwards and upwards’.  It shows others you don’t take things too seriously, least of all yourself…  If someone apologises for spilling a cup of coffee on the carpet, you tell them ‘pyt’ – ie. ‘let’s not worry about it’. PYT! Forgive and forget. Let’s move on… Pyt is the perfect deflector – the way to brush aside uncomfortable situations.  And it’s a breezy, happy expression – how to get the conversation back on a positive note quickly and show others everything is ok.

Distractions from what Matters
  • Candles – scented or not
  • Candle holders
  • Big cushions for sofa
  • Blankets – preferably in natural colours
  • Ceramics: Vases, mugs, planters, tea pots
  • Table cloths
  • Picture frames
  • A sweater

Hygge has little to do with the things that have defined Scandinavian living and design for decades. It’s quite the opposite of the Scandinavian brand of cool, bright functional design and style. Hygge is about warmth and intimacy. It’s candles on the kitchen table and banter around the coffee table. It’s about forgetting material things for a while and focusing on the human aspect of being together. Ironically, the curated Scandi interior design style doesn’t lend itself to hygge moments.

The bright light in a minimalist sitting room is rather at odds with the relaxed after dinner banter. Valuing human interaction stripped of any pretence is a key factor in feeling happy.  One thing that does bind the cool Scandi brand with hygge is the pure aesthetic, the stripping away of everything unnecessary. Although it was the Hygge spirit that led to the Scandi Boho Decor style….”not too much fuss”. Lack of fuss and distractions and expectations are some of the reasons the Scandis are officially the happiest people around.

Hygge the catchy buzz word – how to hygge and live like a Scandinavian

Ostentation is frowned upon – although less so now than it was a couple of decades ago.  Scandis don’t need lots of accessories and nick nags around us to feel at home. Hygge is not a new trend, contrary to belief. The word itself has been in use for centuries and was widely used in the 1960s and 70s.

In fact, the word is even used as a parting shot instead of ‘goodbye’ or ‘see you’. It means have a great time. It is only in the last three to four years it has become a buzz word outside Denmark. So hyped is the word that Collins English Dictionary named it as runner-up-word of the year 2016 – second only to the word Brexit.

Living like a Scandi – forgive and forget…

But back to Hygge. The word has now become an international buzz word – big brands have cottoned on to its power as a marketing tool. Products are now being described as Hygge-this or Hygge-that….hygge pants, hygge candles, hygge scarves…. Candles, candle holders and blankets are associated with Hygge. Pictures of people wrapping up warm with a designer blanket and a hot chocolate grace the glossy magazines. Some of the must-have products often associated with having a hygge time include:

How do Scandis celebrate Hygge?

We don’t really celebrate hygge – we LIVE it. Scandis look for any excuse to create a little hygge.  When we’re indoors watching TV, outdoors jogging, after a game of sport, during a break at college…. Hygge often involves a glass of wine or a beer – or a tea. A stiff drink (snaps) during a brisk walk through the snow on a cold winter’s day. At college Millennials gather round park benches for a between lessons and head to the pub for a Carlsberg afterwards. It’s about bonding. Student life is the perfect environment for creating hygge moments.

As a non-Scandinavian you might ask: How can I create hygge and live like a Scandinavian? Well, here’s the answer… Your recipe for Hygge whereever YOU are:

Origin of the Word Hygge

The word itself comes form the old Norse word hugr, which means soul, mind and consciousness. Others say it comes from the 16th Century word hugge which means to embrace and comfort. But the first time the word really appeared in the Danish language as we know it was in the 1800s. By the 1970s it was used in everyday language. “I må hygge Jer” is a way of saying goodbye – it means “Enjoy yourselves”.  Or “Det var hyggeligt”, which means “It was cosy” or more loosely translated: “We had a good time” or “Much enjoyed”. In fact, the word hyggelig, which is the adjective version of the noun hygge covers a multitude of pleasant experiences.

How YOU can live a Hygge Life

With limited resources and lots of energy and, students come up with their own entertainment and that is the essence of hygge. A campus substitute word is ‘social togetherness’ – which sounds infinitely funnier in the Danish translation than in English.

It’s student code for “getting together and having a drink or two or three, without actually mentioning the word alcohol. A spin-off of Hygge is Rå-Hygge which means Raw-Hygge….an edgier kind of hygge involving a good number of pints.

Want to live like a grungy Student Scandi? Try Raw Hygge

It’s a less refined hygge, but more pure. As they say, in vino veritas. Per definition, to achieve real hygge you sacrifice some of life’s luxuries in order to heighten the bonding experience.

Ironically, as the low maintenance vibe of hygge gets international recognition, Denmark has become a major producer of luxury goods from fashion to home decor and food.

Copenhagen is a hub for some of the best restaurants in the world, creating truly boundary pushing dishes. But bonding over nothing – that is hygge.

When you can do that, everything else is a bonus and the world looks a much nicer place.

Q&A: Hygge for Beginners

– Where do I start? Start with YOU. This is what is so brilliant about hygge – it is one of the most low-maintenance lifestyles you can imagine.

– So what do I need? You don’t need anything. Hygge doesn’t require any luxury products, no statement watches, a Mercedes-Benz or luxury apartment and there’s no need to travel to expensive holiday spas.

– Just me? Yes. Just you. You don’t have to have achieved much or be particularly funny, intelligent or well-dressed.

– But what if I’m nothing special? Good question. Nobody expects anything special from hygge. It’s not about impressing people or telling the funniest jokes or coming up with solutions to political or social problems.All you have to do is be yourself, be cool, relaxed and open to listening, talking and laughing (not least at yourself).

– What do you mean by being cool? We mean being able and willing to let your hair down and letting go of all the things that pull us in different directions.
That is what hygge is all about. It’s a stress-free zone, it’s about living in the moment, putting the mobile on mute and raising your glass of wine, beer, water, orange juice whatever to those around you, whoever they are. Worries will have to wait.

Topics of conversation: Hygge

– So what do people talk about when having a hygge time? This is not the time to shine. This isn’t about you. Park your charisma somewhere else for a while. And don’t worry about ‘networking’ – the anti-hygge word. Hygge times aren’t about pushing for jobs or introductions, it’s not about wanting or achieving anything.
What people DO talk about is funny incidents, gossip (good natured), memories (shared or otherwise), last night’s TV, books, film, film stars…
But there’s also room for more serious conversation – hygge moments are such times when people feel safe, when they know it is not about winning arguments.

– What do we drink and eat when we’re together? Food brings people together, but fine food is not likely to improve the feeling of togetherness.
Hygge time is often spontaneous, so whatever is in the fridge or whatever shop is open, that’s the food we eat. Cake is a big Scandi favourite – Denmark is a cake nation and the go-to dish for hygge timers.
In Denmark millennials most often meet over a Carlsberg beer or wine, but often it’s just a tea or coffee. Indeed, hygge and meeting at a top restaurant go together, but the minute you start getting picky about places the hygge element starts to disappear. Hygge is what happens between people when we eat and drink.

No Blanket or cosy Chair

– And what if I don’t have the blanket and the cosy chair and the Scandi accessories they say you need to create the hygge vibe? Go back and read no 2. Hygge is about bonding with people, or even having time to connect with yourself. Whatever country you are in and whatever cultural tradition, you can take time to treat yourself or create special moments with friends.
Hygge can be as expensive or as cheap as you like, anywhere.

Hygge Locations:
  • At home (kitchen, sitting room)
  • Pub, restaurant, cafe
  • The park
  • In the street (an outdoor street party among neighbours)
  • Shopping with friends – buying or window shopping
  • Cinema
  • Bike trip (motorbike or cycle)
  • Sunday drive (older people mainly)
History – Where does Hygge come from? how to hygge and live like a scandinavian

The word itself comes form the old Norse word hugr, which means soul, mind and consciousness. Others say it comes from the 16th Century word hugge which means to embrace and comfort. But the first time the word really appeared in the Danish language as we know it was in the 1800s. By the 1970s it was used in everyday language. “I må hygge Jer” is a way of saying goodbye – it means “Enjoy yourselves”.  Or “Det var hyggeligt”, which means “It was cosy” or more loosely translated: “We had a good time” or “Much enjoyed”. In fact, the word hyggelig, which is the adjective version of the noun hygge covers a multitude of pleasant experiences.

Brown leather chair & hygge
how to hygge and live like a scandinavian “the happiest people on earth” (Probably)

When your expectations are modest – or realistic – then anything above is a bonus.  The Scandinavian countries dominate the list of happiest in the world year after year. In 2019 it’s Finland with Denmark and Norway second and third – Denmark has also appeared top of the list in previous years.  Some argue the welfare state is the foundation for the Danish happiness. I

Indeed, the feeling of security and knowing you’ll be looked after by the state in times of difficulty helps. But that doesn’t explain unhappiness among people who have no financial worries.  The ability to find pleasure in the smallest and cheapest things is the essence. Valuing human interaction stripped of any pretense, aspiration and other ulterior motives for seeking company is the point.

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