Hygge: Four things we can learn from the happiest people on earth

Denmark, along with its neighbors Finland, Sweden and Norway, consistently earns the enviable rank of one of the happiest countries in the world. More recently, the world has been introduced to hygge (pronounced hoo-gah), a central component of Danish culture that is intricately tied into their happiness.

Although many who study the culture will agree that hygge is key and central, it isn’t a term that is very easily defined. The word derives from the Germanic word hyggja, meaning to feel satisfied. But this term does little to define hygge, which is more of a mindset and a philosophy that is essential to wellbeing. Simply put, hygge is the intentional enjoyment of the simple pleasures in life. But how that is applied into everyday life is far more complex.

There are some central components of hygge from which we can all learn. Below are four that can enrich most of our everyday moments:

  1. Stop and take joy in the moment

    The enjoyment of simple pleasures can only happen if you’re truly present. In today’s society, we are overworked and overstretched, meaning that most of us are trying to accomplish several things at once. But this can render us burnt out, blazing through life with a “task list” mentality instead of stopping to really take note of the amazingness of our lives.

    At least once a day engage in a hyggelig moment by putting down your phone, looking away from the screens, and taking just a moment to enjoy one simple pleasure. That means valuing the scent of your bath oil. Appreciating the softness of your blankets. Savoring the sweet flavors of your herbal tea.

    At work? This can be a quick break that feels refreshing or joyous, such as taking a moment to connect with a coworker or enjoying your coffee quietly at your desk instead of on the go.

  2. Appreciate togetherness.

    Togetherness is an important aspect of hygge. It is a powerful opportunity to feel connected and to leave our differences aside. Achieving such togetherness is especially important during family gatherings or the holidays, which can feel chaotic.

    Although time alone (“me” time) can be essential to relax and unwind, time together is an equally crucial component to reach such goals. A way to create that therapeutic together time is to focus your efforts on being completely present and engaged. It is also focusing on ways of creating a harmonious and warm atomosphere, making conversation that is inclusive and enjoyable to all.

  3. Recognize that money can only make people happy to a certain extent

    While many people equate wealth to happiness, we now know that actual happiness is typically based on other factors. In fact, money is only associated with happiness to a point, after which point the accumulation of further wealth no longer is linearly associated with any further happiness.

    In exploring differences in the perception of wellbeing and happiness between Americans and Danes, one study discovered that low income Americans consistently reported lower life satisfaction than did low income Danes. Thus, financial wellbeing, it would seem, could only thus account for some component of happiness.

    Mike Wiking, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, describes the tendency of Danes to “decouple” wealth and wellbeing. As he says, “Once our basic needs are met, it is more important to focus on meaningful relationships and purpose.”

  1. Recognize the power of your mindframe, especially during the winter

    There is increasing evidence of the detrimental impact of seasonal affective depression. Many people, especially those living in the northern and colder states, will have periods of significant depressive symptoms over the winter months. I have often heard of our winters being described as “dark and depressing.”

    However, Denmark and the various Scandinavian countries have an entirely different mindframe. They experience extraordinarily long, cold and dark winters. Despite this, they still remain the happiest people in the world. How are they able to accomplish this?

    Instead of lamenting the onset of winter, many Danes view wintertime as a time of coziness and celebration, especially with the holidays. What’s hygge to them is the flickering of beautiful candles in the darkness of winter, cozy wool socks when it gets very cold, the aromas of hearty foods, hot drinks and the company of good friends.

Photo credit: Vlatteodor/

DISCLAIMER: All information and content in this post are for informational purposes only. The author does not provide any medical advice on the site, and the information should not be so construed or used. Nothing contained in the site is intended to create a physician-patient relationship, to replace the services of a licensed, trained physician or health professional or to be a substitute for medical advice of a physician or trained health professional licensed in your state. The information expressed here are the views of  Dr. Iyer only and are not the opinions of any hospitals or academic facilities with which Dr. Iyer has an affiliation. You should consult a physician licensed in your state in all matters relating to your health. 

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