We Need to Talk About Hygge—You’re Doing it Wrong

In Denmark, where it’s gray and rainy 179 days a year, hygge is knitted into the fabric of life. For the rest of us—well, we’ve all been trying a little too hard.

Remember the ’90s, when we all collectively feng shui’d our homes, clearing clutter and rearranging furniture in search of that "ahh" feeling? It was a societal surge, and the trend was quickly commodified by books and products promising shortcuts to a more harmonious home. Now, as evidenced by the proliferation of rosy tea mugs, flickering candles, fuzzy throw pillows, and quivering clouds that read "so cozy" on Instagram, the same thing is happening to hygge.

The Danish term, pronounced "HOO-ga" and associated with all activities indoors and cozy, was the subject of over 20 books in America in 2016, earning its very own lifestyle genre from publishing houses like HarperCollins. The preciously titled Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking—CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen—was so widely read that it became a New York Times best seller with a whopping two million copies sold. #Hygge now seasonally litters Instagram and Twitter feeds, and home goods brands like Hygge & West are selling cozy back to us with the promise of the most hyggelig time.

Hygge at its core is the human desire for simple comforts, which take many shapes.

But like $200 yoga pants that have little to do with yoga, the ubiquity of hygge has obscured the point. Trendiness begets repetition en masse, and fetishized participation is dulling the simple pleasure of sharing quiet candlelight, baked goods, and staple reruns with those you love. The word has been bandied about to the extent that it’s snowballed into a cozy craze complete with commercialized paraphernalia—and that makes it the latest in a long list of shallowly appropriated cultural zeitgeists. "Hygge is the wabi-sabi of 2016, which was the sprezzatura of 2015," reads a tweet by Jacob Gallagher, men’s fashion editor of The Wall Street Journal.

However hygge can’t be bought, tried on, or broadcast—and it has little to do with fashion, decor, or hashtags. One cannot hygge harder than another, and there’s no room for the more-hyggelig-than-thou attitudes. Not to go all corn-cob-pipe-academic here, but as philosopher Alan Watts once said of Westerners chasing zen, "Some of you have been eating the menu instead of the dinner."

Hygge can’t be bought, tried on, or broadcast—and it has little to do with fashion, decor, or hashtags.

Putting down the menu is easy, and it starts by putting down your phone and stepping away from consumerism. (Granted, if for some reason you don’t own anything cozy, there might be a start-up cost.) Hygge at its core is the human desire for simple comforts, which take many shapes.

In Signe Johanesen’s book How to Hygge, she features recipes for glogg, muesli, and fruit compote that would perfectly compliment a hyggelig day or evening. The Book of Hygge author Louis Thomsen Brits emphasizes homespun wholesomeness like cuddling, brushing your teeth with your partner, being naked, vintage textiles, burned spatulas, old shoes, and line-dried laundry. Brits may have said it best: "Hygge is a fragile bloom that can’t be forced."

A quick google of "hygge" reveals the misguided hype. The first page results include: "How do I bring a hygge to my house" and "Can I hygge alone?" You know how to hygge, and you’ve been doing it all along—the difference is that now there’s a word for it. Just stop shouting it.

More seasonal reading:

16 Modern Christmas Decorating Ideas Sure to Spread Cheer

12 Architectural Gingerbread Houses That Are Definitely Not Cookie-Cutter 


Get the Dwell Newsletter

Be the first to see our latest home tours, design news, and more.