Hygge: How a Danish lifestyle philosophy can help make your winter happier

Whether overhyped or totally happening, this way of life lifestyle turned into a North American marketing opportunity.
(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

You've got the books, the tea and the candles. But unless you're Danish, you probably don't really get hygge.

Hygge, pronounced hoo-guh, is a Danish term that loosely translates to "coziness." Danes consider it part of their national identity, and a ritual that helps them get through long, harsh winters. But as interest in hygge takes off in the United Kingdom and North America, experts say the true, subtle meaning of the term is getting lost in translation — marketers selling hygge products and Instagrammers hashtagging #hygge on anything fuzzy, furry, warm or nice-tasting, are missing the mark.

"What it's often sold as is: you can buy this blanket and have hygge, you can sit in front of the fireplace and have instant hygge," said Natalie Van Deusen, a professor of Scandinavian studies at the University of Alberta. "It's more of an internal, psychological coziness — a good feeling inside of you."

Van Deusen admits it's difficult to translate the term into English, but she said it's more of a feeling of being in a mentally cozy space than surrounding yourself with cozy material things. If a cup of tea on the couch with your friends makes you feel cozy, that's hygge — but the tea alone is not.

And unless you've been inside the home of a Danish family in full hygge-mode — which means no political talk, rushing around or stress — it's hard to fully understand it, she said.

But with Collins Dictionary declaring it one of the top words of 2016, books galore popping up on how-to-hygge, and 1.7 million Instagram posts with the #hygge hashtag, it's clear hygge's having a moment, whether we understand it or not.

And that's great news for marketers.

Hygge is now being used to sell everything from tea to books to wedding gifts.

"For a whole bunch of marketers, what they're trying to do is not position their products or their services as just products or services, but part of the journey towards making people's lives better or in this case, more comfortable," said Alan Middleton, a marketing professor at York University.

By aligning products with the hygge lifestyle, it gives them a more powerful emotional bond with a consumer, he said.

Middleton suspects the tense political climate in the United States, reverberating in Canada, is also making hygge more attractive to consumers.

"We're so frustrated with the world of politics and economics that we want to go and hide and be comfortable," he said, chuckling. "Anything that offers us a little bit of respite from everything else probably has power."


Regardless of its commercialisation in North America and elsewhere, or criticisms that it's boring or overhyped, Danes don't seem phased.

"Danes absolutely consider it to be a part of their national identity," said Van Deusen, noting hygge is subtle, making it even trickier for North Americans to understand. "It's something you get from being around your nearest and dearest…slowing down and just enjoying the people around you."

Couldn't we all use a little more hygge in our lives?

Katrina Clarke is a Toronto-based journalist who writes about relationships, health, technology and social trends. You can find her on Twitter at @KatrinaAClarke.