If you’ve spent any time perusing Pinterest and Instagram, you’ve probably seen a slew of photos referencing an unfamiliar term: hygge. Pronounced “hue-gah,” it’s a Danish word that most closely translates to “coziness” in English. But hygge is much more than a word, says Jessica Joelle Alexander, author of The Danish Way of Parenting and a leading expert on the topic. It’s a mood. It’s a feeling. It’s a way of life.
For years, Denmark has consistently ranked in the top three of the World Happiness Report’s list of the happiest countries on the planet. That’s because Danes have long subscribed to the idea of living hygge. “It’s so integral to their culture that they don’t understand why the rest of the world has just begun to find it so interesting,” says Alexander, who was raised in the U.S., but now resides in Europe with her Danish husband.
A few years ago, people from other countries finally wanted to know Denmark’s secret. Right on cue, a wave of books like Alexander’s flooded the market, with each manual promising how to best incorporate elements of hygge into our everyday lives. Today, some of the most popular aesthetic hallmarks of hygge—Danish staples like warm blankets, bright candles, comfy socks, and mugs filled to the brim with delicious hot cocoa—endure on social media.
While these cozy products are a good start to achieving hygge, Alexander says there are more important year-round rules to follow than stocking up on soothing stuff. “More so than anything else, the whole idea around hygge is belongingness,” she says. “It’s all about focusing on who you’re with, in this moment.” To truly try hygge, stick to these five simple strategies:
- Leave yourself out of it. When you hang with friends and family, resist the temptation to talk about yourself too much. “Bragging is subtly divisive,” says Alexander. “It puts too much attention on one person, when the goal of hygge is to be together.”
- Leave drama at the door, too. The same goes for gossiping about other people. “Negativity causes stress, and stress doesn’t connect us,” she says. “With hygge, you’re making a pact to enter a calming space and remove all psychological barriers.”
- Facebook, Twitter and the news can wait. Devices equal distractions, which take away from enjoying each other’s company.
- Work together. Teamwork is an important hygge principle. That could mean playing lots of games at gatherings—“a huge part of Danish culture,” Alexander says—or having everyone chip in to make dinner.
- Enjoy the present—but revisit the past. Alexander recommends telling funny, uplifting stories from the past that everyone remembers. “The more you focus on good, positive memories that you shared together, the more you can stay connected,” she says. “Remember, it’s we time, not me time.”
Excited to incorporate hygge into your summertime rituals? Check out these warm-weather hygge ideas.