The Current

In troubled times, Danish art of 'coziness' sparks international trend

Hygge, a centuries-old Danish practice, is now trendy, with social media sites teeming with images of woolly socks and intimate gatherings around the fireplace. But what does hygge really mean, and can it actually bring comfort to our daily lives?
The author of 'The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Well' says hygge can be practiced with other people or alone. 'It's about the quality of presence.' (bjornfalkevik/flikr)

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Lifestyle enthusiasts from around the world have latched on to a centuries-old Danish cultural practice, "hygge", or what some call the art of "coziness."

This year, nine books will be published featuring the concept of hygge in their title, while social media platforms are teeming with pictures of falling leaves and woolly socks. There are more than a million hygge-related posts on Instagram.

"Hygge is about creating a circle of warmth. It's an uncomplicated moment of relatedness, contentment and ease," says Louisa Thomsen Brits, author of The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Well.

For Thomsen Brits, hygge offers a "feeling of belonging to the moment and each other — a brief restorative pause."

She says the best way to practice hygge, is to establish a point of focus.

"Make tea, or share a meal, or make conversation. Open a book or play cards, or put on a movie."

Louisa Thomsen Brits says 'sharing food is the epitome of hygge.' (Julie Van Rosendaal)

The idea of hygge was introduced after Denmark lost its empire in 18th and 19th century. The Danes were encouraged to look inward, and identify with smallness.

"Hygge is facilitated by small means," says Thomsen Brits. "Paying attention to each other and the possibilities of the moment."

Louisa Thomsen Brits maintains hygge has been distorted by a capitalist system directly at odds with the concept.

"I think it's been hyjacked."

Michael Booth, author of The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia, agrees.

"It is being used right now to sell newspapers, magazine, books, candles, socks and all these other things that we already have."

Booth says hygge has its value, but he's frustrated with all the hype.

"It's been elevated into something aspirational and it's not that. It's about having a cozy time."

He also says there are downfalls that aren't being considered, like an aversion to riskier topics of conversation, including politics.

"This middle ground where everything is non-confrontation […] it's just boring."

Booth says hygge's emphasis on community can also used to exclusionary ends.

It has been slightly appropriated by the right to reinforce a sense of "Danish-ness" [...] and by that they mean people who are ethnically Danish.- Michael Booth

Hygge likewise has a defeatist edge.

"It's no conincidence why the world has gone crazy […] what a troubling year and unpredictable future we're staring down the barrel at in this moment. What's more natural than to shut the curtains and stick your head in the sand, and that's what hygge invited you to do."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this webpost. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Naheed Mustafa and Samira Mohyeddin.