Unlike Denmark’s many other famous exports, hygge (pronounced ‘hue-ga’) isn’t easy to define – although ‘cultivated cosiness’ is one possibility. Being cosy is essential in a Nordic country where, in midwinter, the mercury hovers around zero degrees and the gloom looms mid-afternoon. Despite these seasonal deprivations – and alarmingly high taxation – Denmark was again named the ‘happiest nation’ in the UN’s ‘World Happiness Report’ for 2016; it has also topped the European Commission’s ‘Eurobarometer’ for well-being and happiness since 1973.
Could hygge be playing a part in this?
Meik Wiking believes so. He’s the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute – an independent think tank focusing on life satisfaction, happiness, and quality of life – based in (you guessed it) Denmark. The Institute’s mission is to improve life quality for people around the world. Wiking also wrote one of the numerous hygge-related books published in the past few months: ‘The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well’ (Penguin).
The word hygge came originally from the Norwegian for ‘well-being’, although older and similar words translate as ‘hug’ and ‘comfort’. Who’d say no to any of these in the unsettled times in which we live? Wiking says hygge is
“the state where all psychological needs are in balance.”
Rather than material things, it’s about atmosphere, experience, and gratitude for what we have: “Being with the people we love,” he explains. “A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allowing ourselves to let our guard down.” The latter explains the lack of concern about the calories consumed in the popular ‘hyggelig’ activity of having coffee and cake with friends!
People all over the world are embracing Danish hygge-lifestyle tips, because the benefits are not just for those living in northern climes. Winter on Mallorca may not be as cold and dark as in Denmark, but the chill and damp here are in stark contrast to the heat of our Mediterranean summers.
Anette Hoj Andersen, who works at Castell Son Claret hotel, says her favourite hygge times include cooking with her children:
“It is a very typical thing in Denmark: To cook together, share the meal and talk with no TV or other media on – everyone is calm, connected and happy. The creativity and conversation that evolves during the kitchen time are great and true moments of hygge.”
Helle Alexandersen is Danish and lives on Mallorca, where she and her business partner own and run the excellent – and ‘hyggelig’ – restaurant Luna 36 in Sóller. It’s a cosy welcoming place where you feel instantly at home, among friendly people who serve food prepared from the heart.
What does hygge mean for Helle?
“Being with family and friends, listening to good music, playing games, eating delicious food,” she lists.
“Talking, laughing, joking, and having a good time.” Hygge isn’t just for winter: “When it’s cold, it means lots of candles, blankets, the fireplace, drinking tea and chocolate. And in summer, it’s being outside in our garden, beautifully set up with flowers, pillows, and lots of colour. But the main thing is socialising.”
Numerous scientific studies have found that social relations are essential to happiness, and the calm and happy Danes do love to welcome friends and family into their stylish uncluttered abodes. But you don’t need a property filled with cool Danish designs (think Arne Jacobsen, Verner Panton, Malene Birger et al) to find your hygge this winter on Mallorca.
Simplicity is the key:
Light some candles. The Danes burn more wax than any other European nation; more than a quarter of the population lights candles every day.
Snuggle. A soft woollen wrap, cosy socks, a blanket, and some plump cushions should do it; or a Fair Isle sweater, as worn by DI Sarah Lund in the Danish TV drama ‘The Killing’.
Indulge. Forget calories and treat yourself to mood-boosting food and drink. Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, mulled wine, cake, sweets, hearty casseroles, a glass of Mallorcan ‘tinto’… anything that warms the soul.
Create memories. Wrap up warm, pack a picnic, and enjoy a group walk – along a deserted beach or in the Tramuntana mountains.
Meik Wiking sums it up: “Hygge is about making the most of what we have in abundance: the everyday.”
Who knew that the path to happiness could be that simple? Those clever Danes …