Get cosy with Danish concept of hygge

LONDON • Forget the bloody crime novels of Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbo and the bleak crime television of The Bridge and The Killing. The latest Scandinavian export is the Danish concept of "hygge" and it will be all over bookshops at Christmas.

Pronounced, approximately, "hue-ga", hygge loosely translates as cosiness. It is about a feeling of well-being, enjoying life, whether through time spent with close friends or family, sitting by a fire with a hot chocolate or putting on warm socks and dry clothes after a rainstorm.

If that is not clear, perhaps the flurry of books out this autumn exploring the concept will help clarify it: whether it is The Little Book Of Hygge by the chief executive of Copenhagen's Happiness Research Institute, Meik Wiking, How To Hygge or The Art Of Hygge - all out in September - it could be the biggest trend in publishing this Christmas.

"Scand-wagon one might say," said the Bookseller's non-fiction expert Caroline Sanderson. "It's so striking - I don't think I've ever known quite such a marked trend. You could have a whole table in a bookshop covered with these."

What freedom is to Americans, hygge is to Danes.

Emily Robertson, who is publishing Wiking's book at Penguin, describes the craze as the antithesis to the host of clean-eating books that have dominated bestseller lists for months.

"Lifestyle publishing at the moment is all about deprivation and cutting things out, whether that's food or exercise. Hygge is the complete opposite of that," she said.

"It's about embracing things, enjoying cake and chocolate, spending time with friends and family. It's about the little things and luxuries which make life great, about enjoying the happy moments which we perhaps miss.

"It's basically the antithesis to everything that's been happening in lifestyle publishing so far."

Wiking, whose book recommends everything from candles to treating yourself with cake and cocoa, says hygge was originally a Norwegian word and that it has equivalents in German and Dutch, in gemutlichkeit and gezelligheid.

"But what is uniquely Danish is how much value we attribute to the word and how often we use it," he said.

"It's omnipresent in our language and we also see it as part of our national DNA. We've been talking about this at the institute - that what freedom is to Americans, hygge is to Danes."

He is wary of giving the word an exact translation. "It's more than cosy and I've spent a book translating it. It's the art of creating intimacy - cocoa by candlelight. But perhaps what hygge is really about is trying to achieve everyday happiness."

He believes that hygge could be the "missing ingredient" that leads to Denmark regularly topping world happiness rankings.

"We did studies on why Denmark does well and talked about Danes' social security, equality, wealth and tolerance," he said. "But the trouble with that explanation is that it doesn't set Denmark apart from the other Nordic countries. Maybe hygge is part of that missing piece."

British writer Charlotte Abrahams' Hygge is also out in September and sees her exploring the history of the concept and its place in Danish culture, along with her efforts to bring hygge into her own life.

"It's very much a Brit looking at it from the outside," she said.

"I've always been deeply suspicious of all these lifestyle philosophies - they irritate me. But hygge isn't like that - it's a feeling, very rooted in spending time with your friends and family at home...

"It's kind of linked to mindfulness and happiness science, but in a lovely, gentle way. It has no rules - you don't have to meditate, for example - and it does seem very achievable."

The word, she says, is "vaguely connected to the English word hug: to cherish yourself, to make yourself snug. And I found the idea of a nation which has a concept about cherishing so deeply engrained in its culture very interesting."

At Waterstones, non-fiction buyer Bea Carvalho believes the craze for hygge follows the success of Lars Mytting's Norwegian Wood, a guide to chopping and stacking wood the Norwegian way that she said has sold almost 100,000 copies since its publication last year, as well as the popular memoir The Year Of Living Danishly by Helen Russell, in which the journalist spent a year in Denmark trying to discover its recipe for happiness.

Abrahams' Hygge, Carvalho predicted, "could fill the Norwegian Wood hole for this Christmas" and she expects many of the hygge titles to sell strongly as Christmas presents.

"There seems to be a real fascination with that way of life and it keeps on building," she said. "It slots in really well to the whole mindfulness trend...

"There are loads (of hygge books) coming up. It's having its moment."


• The Little Book Of Hygge (£9.99 or S$19.40), How To Hygge (£14.99) and The Art Of Hygge (£9.99) are available for pre-order at

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2016, with the headline Get cosy with Danish concept of hygge. Subscribe