Danish craze for cosiness spreads to the US

NEW YORK • As soothing as a video of a basket of baby sloths, and borne on a raft of lifestyle books, hygge is headed for your living room.

Hygge (pronounced HOO-gah, like a football cheer in a Scandinavian accent) is the Danish word for cosy. It is also a national manifesto, nay, an obsession expressed in the constant pursuit of homespun pleasures involving candlelight, fires, fuzzy knitted socks, porridge, coffee, cake and other people. But no strangers, as the Danes, apparently, are rather shy.

Hygge is already such a thing in Britain that Collins Dictionary proclaimed it one of the top 10 words of the year, along with Brexit and Trumpism.

Denmark frequently tops lists of the happiest countries in the world, in surveys conducted by the United Nations, among other organisations, consistently beating its Scandinavian cousins, Sweden and Norway - as well as the United States - which hovers around 13th place.

While all three Nordic countries share happiness boosters such as small populations and the attendant boons of a welfare state (free education, subsidised childcare and other generous social supports), what distinguishes Denmark is its quest for hygge.

At least, that is the conclusion of Meik Wiking, founder and chief executive of the Happiness Research Institute, a think-tank based in Copenhagen dedicated to exploring why some societies are happier than others.

"We talk about it constantly," he said. "I'll invite you over for dinner and during the week we'll talk about how hyggelig it's going to be, and then during the dinner we'll talk about how hyggelig it is, and then during the week afterwards, you'll remind me about how hyggelig Saturday was." (The adjectival form of the word is pronounced HOO-gah-lee.) "Danes see hygge as a part of our culture," he said, "the same way you see freedom as inherently American."

Wiking wrote The Little Book Of Hygge, which is already a bestseller in Britain and will be out next month in the US. It is the most engaging of what is becoming a fullfledged lifestyle category.

More than 20 how-to hygge books were published here this year, although the Marie Kondo (best-selling author of The LifeChanging Magic Of Tidying Up) of the discipline has yet to be anointed. Perhaps it is anti-hygge to suggest that any guru might prevail.

Also coming stateside next month is How To Hygge: The Nordic Secrets To A Happy Life, by chef and food writer Signe Johansen, to be followed in February by The Book Of Hygge: The Danish Art Of Contentment, Comfort And Connection, by Louisa Thomsen Brits, who is half-Danish and half-British and sells Danish furniture from hygge.com, a domain name she was savvy enough to claim.

"It had the feel of the fengshui phenomenon," said Ms Cassie Jones, executive editor at HarperCollins, the parent company of William Morrow, which is publishing The Little Book Of Hygge. "An opportunity to look to another culture for something intuitively familiar, yet refreshingly new."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2016, with the headline 'Danish craze for cosiness spreads to the US'. Print Edition | Subscribe