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Practicing Hygge: What We Can Learn from the Danish Culture on Mental Health

Do you enjoy making your environment around you cozy? You might already be practicing hygge more than you think. hygge is a concept originated in Danish culture that focuses on living with a sense of comfort, coziness, and peace. It has often been described as creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things that life has to offer with positive energy surrounding you.

What is so intriguing about practicing hygge, pronounced either “hue-guh” or “hoo-gah,  is that there are actual health benefits to living a hygge-focused lifestyle. Happiness researchers continually find Denmark to have some of the happiest people on Earth, which Danes attribute it to the practice of hygge. Feeling increased happiness could certainly be a perk of practicing hygge, but there may be other emotional, physical and relationship benefits as well.

Emotional Benefits

Hygge decor is intended to promote a sense of calm and peace in the living space. Since we make sense of our experiences and environment through the use of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell, it may come as no surprise that creating a cozy living space would help us feel less anxious and promote a sense of emotional well-being and safety. These feelings of comfort and safety can better allow us, and those sharing the space with us, to let down our guards and be more present and open to connecting with one another. Examples of possible emotional benefits may include:

  • Less depression and anxiety
  • Increased feelings of self-worth
  • Increased optimism
  • Stress reduction
  • Greater sense of mindfulness
  • Improved self-compassion
  • Increased practice of gratitude

Physical Benefits

When we feel safe and calm, our body responds accordingly. It is in moments of perceived danger or threat that our bodies naturally go into a response of fight, flight, or freeze. A hygge-style environment promotes an atmosphere of safety and comfort, where our minds and bodies can feel more relaxed. In a space like this, there is much less need for us to scan our environment for physical/mental threats. Examples of possible physical benefits may include:

  • Improved sleep
  • Weight regulation
  • Fewer stress hormone spikes
  • Improved practice of self-care
  • Reduced need for unhealthy coping behaviors like alcohol or drugs

Social Benefits

When we feel comfortable and emotionally safe, we are more likely to reach out to build and nurture connections with others. In a hygge-centered lifestyle, there is an emphasis on connecting with family, friends and loved ones. Spending time with those who are most important to us creates a sense of belonging and connection that research continuously shows impacts our health and well-being. Examples of possible social benefits may include:

  • Focus on togetherness, or “feelings” of togetherness
  • Feelings of comfort and safety
  • Increased trust 
  • Increased intimacy
  • New social connections
  • Improved existing relationships
  • Less reliance on social media

How can we use hygge in our everyday lives? There are many easy ways that we can incorporate elements of hygge into our daily lives and our living spaces. Implementing some of these elements can start bringing you those feelings of peace, connection, and comfort in your home and everyday life.

Lighting/Warmth. Lighting is an essential part of creating a sense of hygge in the living space. The use of warm, soft white light creates an inviting and comfortable space compared to harsh, bright white bulbs or fluorescent lighting. You may want to install a dimmer to have options for lighting the space the way you want.

Texture. Hygge is all about things that feel soft and cozy. You might want to incorporate soft accessories like blankets, throws, pillows, and rugs to create a warm, inviting space. The soft textures are calming and allow us to feel soothed when our anxieties run high. Now that spring/summer is here, think about linen throws or blankets. Soft textures allow others to feel safe in the space as well, while calming fears, and allowing people to open up more with one other. Conversations can subsequently feel calmer and open in this space, rather than feeling rushed or forced.

Decor. Consider using pieces that have special meaning to you such as pictures of family and loved ones. You can place photo albums on the coffee table with pictures of your travels or experiences that you’ve shared with others. Hygge is about warmth and connection, so use decor to draw people in and create good meaningful conversation(s), which in and of itself is a natural stress reliever.

Color. The colors chosen for a living space are a significant part of setting a cozy stage for reflection and peace of mind. Neutral colors are often chosen, particularly whites, soft whites, blushes and soft browns. The use of neutral color palettes actually help to calm your mind, and ease your anxieties, which all fit in with this particular style of living.

Activity. Hygge-style activities typically involve things that help us feel peaceful, cozy and connected with others. Gatherings with friends in the home are a primary activity. Gatherings are focused on the connection built with others, not the presentation. There is no need for a formal black-tie affair. In fact, hygge living would suggest just the opposite. Gatherings should offer a space that is casual, whereby people can feel comfortable and relaxed while connecting with one another in a meaningful way. Consider a game night with friends, having friends or neighbors over for coffee, or hosting a book/movie night.

Hygge is all about building an intuitive space for comfort, peace, and connection. The benefits of implementing some of these elements reach beyond our emotional/mental, physical and social health. Incorporating some of these ideas into your living environment may offer you a space that is relaxing for yourself, inviting to others and great for your mental health and well-being. Whether you are a newbie to this, or have already been incorporating such concepts into your daily life, we all can benefit from a de-stressing and comforting routine to carry us into the warmer months and beyond.

References:

Wiking, Meik. The Little Book of Hygge. Danish Secrets to Happy Living. New York, NY : William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 2017.

Practicing Hygge: What We Can Learn from the Danish Culture on Mental Health


Emily Waters

Emily Waters earned her Master's degree in industrial psychology with an emphasis in human relations. She possesses keen insight into the field of applied psychology, organizational development, motivation, and stress, the latter of which is ubiquitous in the workplace environment and in one’s personal life. One of her academic passions is the understanding of human nature and illness as it pertains to the mind and body. Prior to obtaining her degree, she worked in both the corporate and nonprofit sectors. Presently, she teaches a variety of psychology courses both in public and private universities.


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APA Reference
Waters, E. (2019). Practicing Hygge: What We Can Learn from the Danish Culture on Mental Health. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 21, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/practicing-hygge-what-we-can-learn-from-the-danish-culture-on-mental-health/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 29 May 2019
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 29 May 2019
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