The rigors of entrepreneurship call for a work-life state of mind: Hygge: Is it the Secret to Happiness?
About ten years ago, Josie and I had a chance to visit friends living in Denmark. We had a free place to stay and were excited to check out a country in Europe that is often overlooked.
The first thing that struck me about Denmark was just how cold it was for it being early October. Think late November and early December weather in the East Cost. As it turns out, winters are long and summers are short here. To help cope with this the Danes have come up with the concept of “hyggelige” or “hygge” for short. The problem for us non-Danish speakers is that there is not a good English language translation for hygge.
A piece by Russell McLendon in Mother Nature Network describes “hygge” as:
Hygge, originally a Norwegian word for “well -being,” first appeared in Danish near the end of the 18th century, according to Denmark’s tourism bureau. It has evolved into a big part of Danish life since then, absorbing connotations over time like a semantic snowball. The dark winters of Denmark helped turn hygge from a mere word into a kind of cultural panacea, manifested in various ways to buffer Danes against cold, solitude and stress.
“In other languages the word for hygge or coziness is more a physical thing, and hygge is more a mental thing,” explains Lotte Hansen, a library science student from Aalborg, Denmark, who’s interning at the Museum of Danish America in Elk Horn, Iowa. “It’s like a feeling, and it’s big at Christmastime. The candles, the food, being with your family.”
“It’s not only Christmas, though,” she adds, noting hygge is a pervasive, year-round spirit. “It’s like a mood you have. We can see hygge in many things, in many situations.”
You see, hygge is not just a term like hot or cold; but it’s more akin to a state of mind. The most often cited translation is “cozy,” but as many have pointed out, this doesn’t really capture the totality of hygge.
My favorite translation of hygge harkens one to the feeling best captured during Thanksgiving.
There’s familiarity and warmth when being surrounded by loved ones.
And if we are to believe a number of surveys, including the United Nations’ World Happiness Report, then hygge may explain why the Danes consider themselves happy people. The factors measured include a healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, and generosity. Of course there are other factors like GDP per capita and freedom from corruption that are more influenced by the state, but wealth alone cannot account for the Danes’ overall happiness. After all, there are other countries wealthier than Denmark.
The U.S. ranks number 19 in happiness
And in case you are wondering, in the 2022 UN World Happiness Report, the United States came in at number 15 in the ranking, while Denmark finished in the number 2 slot behind fellow Scandinavian country, Finland.
Clearly we are no slouches in 19th slot in a ranking of almost 160 countries. But for being the freest and most prosperous country on earth, it sure seems like many of us are not happy.
Perhaps we could learn a thing or two from the Danes and their fondness for hygge. Dealing with sub-zero temperatures during the winter can be miserable, and so is the oppressive heat that many of us are slogging through in these dog days of summer—but there are joys corresponding to these seasons. Of course, besides the weather, there are meetings, emails and work projects vying for our attention. And at home, there are chores and bills that need to be dealt with. But through it all, there is happiness and enjoyment. The problem is that sometimes we choose not to stop to look for it.
To me, hygge is enjoying the right here and now.
To me, it’s a state of mind first and setting the mood second. Lighting a fire and pouring yourself a glass of wine is easy. What’s hard is really convincing yourself that all the stress and worry in your life is temporary. My faith has helped me immensely on the latter, but perhaps others have a different way of processing worry and anxiety.
Easier said than done, but it does seem that for the Danes, finding happiness is not as elusive as one would think.
Try it sometime, it may change your outlook on life.