Welcome to Scandinavia, where the only mafia boss is a house music DJ and moose (meese?) roam the streets. Sweden ranks in at ninth happiest in the world, and its neighbors Denmark, Norway and Finland occupy the top three spots. What makes these countries so much happier than the rest of the world, when their dark and cold winter nights should contribute to the opposite? The answer is simple: Hygge.
The Danish word hygge is actually quite difficult to translate, because there is no direct English counterpart. The definition above gives a sense of the word’s meaning, but it’s something that can only be truly understood by feeling it.
Have you ever lit a nice candle and enjoyed a cup of coffee after work? That’s hygge.
Or perhaps the time you helped a coworker jump their car and they thanked you with a handwritten note.
Maybe it’s simply a hot bath during a blizzard.
You may think, “I’ve had these feelings before, so therefore I am already living a life of hygge! Why would I need this article?” Well, the difference between Scandinavia and the rest of the world is that their culture is entirely engrained in a hygge mentality. In America, for example, we define success as finding a high-paying job, getting a golden retriever, and moving to the suburbs. Our entire existence, from education to work to retirement, is centered almost exclusively on money and prestige. To be frank, these goals can never be achieved because enough will never be enough. A higher salary is always on the horizon, and degrees from more prestigious universities can always be earned. We enjoy the feelings of hygge, but we view them as a side effect of making money — a feeling that can only be achieved by the wealthy and affluent. That is what sets Scandinavia apart.
One may argue that socialism is bad because it takes too much money from the rich. If your primary goal in life is to make money, then of course you’re going to have a negative outlook on the economic system. But if your main intention is to be happy and kind to others, socialism is the perfect system. According to US News, “The United States, it appears, is getting richer but not happier.” Sure, people will always vehemently oppose socialism, and many will argue that it has fundamental flaws making it impossible to implement here. In reality, however, the flaw lies within the mentality of American people. Socialism will not work here not because it is wrong in and of itself, but because most Americans would rather have money than be happy.
We know hygge could be embraced in America because it is actually already being practiced by Democrats and Republicans alike! Teachers who choose to take a lower salary because they are passionate about educating the next generation are practicing hygge. Brooklyn hipsters who would prefer to buy sustainable coffee and spend time with friends are practicing hygge. Retired folks taking a class at the community college because it interests them are practicing hygge.
Unfortunately, it is very hard to change an entire society’s values, especially considering the “American Dream” is so high on everyone’s priority list. That doesn’t mean you can’t live a hygge life of your own. It all comes down to the classic mantra: “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” It’s not just a cliche; Scandinavian countries consistently rank in the top ten of happiness, and it’s because they focus their goals and priorities on the things that make them happiest. So, I encourage you to spend one day with hygge in the back of your mind. Embrace the simple pleasures, and go out of your way to help others. Set aside a cozy spot in your bedroom where you can read and be alone with your thoughts. Make a cup of coffee not because you need it to wake up, but because you want to take your time and enjoy the flavors. And if you don’t notice the difference, you’re trying too hard.