Here’s the Difference Between Hygge and Just Plain Lazy

published Jan 18, 2018
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(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

When studying Danish, one of the first words you’ll learn is “hygge.” It loosely translates to “coziness,” but many Danes will tell you that meaning is a bit too literal and restrictive. It’s a word that is so emblematic of the Danish culture that it doesn’t have a perfect English equivalent. I spent the fall of 2012 living in Copenhagen, where I was exposed to the cozy candlelit cafes with big blankets and zero sense of urgency before that aura of comfort became “cool.” Back in the U.S., we hibernate, cancel plans, and bring out the big blankets, but we don’t necessarily embrace and relish in the change of season like those in dark, cold Nordic countries. That is, until recently.

We have a habit of taking something that’s supposed to make life inherently more fulfilling and turning it into a thing (hygge was even word-of-the-year worthy). For Danes, hygge isn’t a trendy way to excuse your cashmere sweater purchase… it’s a lifestyle that has been around for centuries. In America, however, we read one book (maybe The Little Book of Hygge) and we are on a quest to achieve hygge, with the same determination and focus with we might approach avocado toast, the KonMari method, or mastering barre class.

Suddenly, anything synonymous with comfort was hygge. That blanket? So hygge. Oh, you lit a candle? Check it out, you’ve achieved peak hygge! You had a cup of exotic tea with organic honey? Well, aren’t you just the hyggest thing ever.

In reality, hygge evolved out of necessity: Denmark sees 179 days of rain per year, and being so far north, those winters are dark. Like, lights-out-at-three-pm dark. Instead of giving into SAD or resigning themselves to almost a full year of doom and gloom, they created a new culture… and clearly it worked, since Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the world. They don’t try to be hygge—they just are. And news flash: Many of the things you’ve been claiming as hygge are just… basic principles of keeping warm. But in order to embrace hygge (which we should!) we need to know where the line is drawn. Well, by my rules anyway.

Hygge: Wrapping yourself in a warm blanket, reading your favorite book, and not having any FOMO about this being your Friday night plan when many of your friends slushed through the melted snow to a bar downtown.

Lazy: Getting out of the shower and lying on your bed in a towel for two hours while you contemplate if you actually want to leave the apartment, decide you’re feeling “hygge,” and cancel your plans. Not hygge, but admittedly I love a good two hours in a towel. It’s just called “comfortable.”

Hygge: Visiting your local coffee shop and ordering your favorite warm beverage while you catch up with a friend, read a magazine, or simply sit unobtrusively in a corner and people watch.

Rude: Sitting in a small coffee shop on a Saturday morning with a chai latte, in a big chunky sweater, while you take up a table for four with your computer and purse and hog two of the available outlets for your devices. Warm sweaters and warm beverages do not a hygge make.

Hygge: Spending an evening basking in the warm glow of your fireplace.

Millennial Move: Turning your Apple TV to the “fireplace” stream and basking in the glow of its soft, blue light.

Hygge: Treating yourself to a new pair of fuzzy socks that make you feel happy and warm. You rush home, put them on, and its like your feet have slipped into the most inviting sweaters on earth.

Ruining the Moment: Perfectly positioning those fuzzy-socked feet in front of your couch pillows, taking a photo, and captioning it “feet feeling hygge” on Instagram (with the Oslo filter, of course).

Hygge: Inviting your friends to your apartment on a Saturday night for a home-cooked meal, hot chocolate, and The Holiday (which you can watch all year long just ask anyone).

Stressful: Throwing a hygge-party for 10 friends (so hyggelig!) that requires you to drop unnecessary money on fluffy blankets and attempt mulled wine which ends up way too strong and everyone passes out before Kate and Cameron even switch houses.

Hygge: Making a vat of soup on Friday night so you can enjoy the leftovers all weekend—you might even have the first bowl under a blanket on the couch.

Gross: Ordering takeout for every meal all weekend, eating on the couch and letting the leftovers pile up until Monday morning (give yourself a break, you’re staying in! So hygge!). When you think you see one of the containers move ever-so-slightly come Sunday afternoon, you make a pillow fort so you can’t see it.