Is Hygge, or “Social Coziness”, Denmark’s Best Export?
Visiting us this week is Bob Lai, the blogger behind Canadian Financial Independence and Early Retirement blog “Tawcan” with an important message on living the good life with a Danish influence.
Unless you have been living under a rock the last few years, you probably have come across the word “hygge.” Hygge is a concept that comes from Denmark. Directly translated, it means cozy. For some reason, hygge has been the hottest craze lately. Everywhere you look you can find hygge related items, being it a flood of books, countless top 10 lists or how-to website articles, department store displays, and even Japanese bakeries.
What exactly is hygge? Does it simply mean cozy? Or purchases of things to create a cozy environment?
I will explain to you what hygge is to me and my family.
Before I get into what hygge truly means, you are probably wondering, how would a Taiwanese Canadian know anything about a Danish concept? What qualifies me to write about hygge?
Well, I met a Danish girl back in 2009 and fell deeply in love with her. One of the first things that she taught me was hygge and what it means to have a “hyggelig” time. I asked her to marry me, at her 30th birthday party, in front of our close friends. Nobody had any idea that I was going to propose to her. Fortunately, she said yes. After we got married, she told me that one of the key reasons for her saying yes was because of my excellent hygge skills.
How do you pronounce hygge?
Before getting into what hygge is exactly, let’s go over the pronunciation because almost every non-Danish person I know is messing up the pronunciation.
One thing I have learned as a non-Danish person trying to pronounce the word hygge is that it is a hard word to pronounce. For example, my wife (I’ll refer to her as Mrs. T from now on) has taught my parents numerous times how to pronounce the word, but they still butcher the word by pronouncing it like “hoog.” I think my pronunciation is quite decent but probably still not quite like a true Dane yet.
Contrary to belief, hygge is not pronounced like hoog, hoo-ah, hoo-gah, or hig. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to write it out phonetically in English because there are no characters to reflect the actual “hy” sound. The closest phonetic pronunciation is probably a mix between “hue-gah” and “huh-gah.” Since it is so hard explained in words, it is best to listen to the audio pronunciation here.
What is hygge?
Hygge to Danes means a lot more than just cozy or coziness. It is about quality time, whether alone or with friends, at home or out. It usually involves some sort of food, candles, some sort of activities like playing games, doing creative stuff, or working on a project together. Hygge can also be as simple as wrapping yourself in a big warm fuzzy blanket, having a cup of hot chocolate, while sitting in front of the fireplace, and enjoying the moment.
As an honorary Dane, hygge to me is about slowing down and spending quality time with the important people in my life. It is about having good food and having a good time; it is about having a deep conversation with someone while enjoying a nice cup of tea/coffee, it is about taking time to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. To qualify something as “hyggligt,” it requires slowing down, being completely present in the moment, and enjoying it fully.
Therefore, hygge is not about buying cashmere blankets, candles, wine, furniture, pastries, yoga pants, or other material things.
Hygge cannot be purchased. It has a much deeper meaning, a higher purpose.
Danish hygge life vs. North American life
Having lived with a Dane for the past 7 years and stayed in Denmark multiple times over a month each time, I have noticed some major differences between how Danes incorporate hygge into their daily lives and the drastic contrast with how we North Americans operate our daily lives.
For example, Danes can sit for hours over a meal. Whenever we celebrate Christmas with Mrs. T’s family, Christmas meal typically starts around 5 or 6 PM and we usually won’t finish the meal until 10 PM. It does not mean we eat food nonstop for 4 or 5 hours. It has more to do with having different food items slowly and having different conversations along the way.
Mrs. T’s family has a tradition of inviting relatives over for Christmas lunch on the 26th of December (Danes celebrate Christmas on the evening of Dec. 24th). The Christmas lunches I have attended, we would start around noon, often going past 7 or 8 PM. Essentially lunch and dinner would merge into one giant meal. To my wife’s family, these long meals are hyggelige. We sit down together, talk, eat some seafood dishes, talk some more, eat hot dishes, talk some more, eat cheese platters and fruit salad, get up for a walk around the neighbourhood, come back to the living room to have some coffee, more talks, have some desserts, more talks, have some more coffee, etc… well you get the drift.
And it is not just special holiday meals that the Danes would sit down for, for hours. Everyday meals are much slower and last longer compared to what I have been used to here in North America. The Danes aren’t in a hurry to finish up their meals so they can move on to the next task. They consciously slow down to enjoy the moment and each other’s company.
This concept of slowing down to enjoy the moment is still a learning-progress for me. When we eat meals at home, I would often try to finish my food quickly and start cleaning, so we can move to the next activity or task on hand. When my phone rings or beeps, I would have the strong urge to step away from the table and check my phone. “Sit down and wait till everyone’s finished! We are having hygge!” Mrs. T would often remind me. I am better now today, but I am still learning. 😊
Thanks to Mrs. T, I have been learning how to incorporate hygge as part of my everyday life and to spend quality time. I have learned to take the time to consciously slow down so I can enjoy things that I truly enjoy. This can be playing a video game, watching a hilarious movie, taking the time to meditate, reading a book, playing silly games with my kids, or laughing hysterically over something completely silly and stupid.
Why is hygge so popular nowadays?
The popularity of hygge probably has something to do with us living in a fast-pace-technology-driven-everyone-is-always-busy world. Everywhere we look, people are stressed about their jobs, stressed about their lives, stressed about money, stressed about putting a roof over their head, stressed about having the latest and greatest gadget, stressed about keeping up with the Joneses, stressed about saving up for retirement, etc. Somehow, we are looking for a way to detach ourselves from the daily grind and do something special for ourselves.
However, it is not just hygge that we need to incorporate into our daily lives. As someone who is involved with the Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) movement, I believe we need to incorporate hygge into our FIRE plans.
Because I believe incorporating hygge in our FIRE plans will make our lives more fulfilling.
The FIRE community has a tendency to focus on the FIRE date and the FIRE number. We are in a rush to get to FIRE so we can finally enjoy our lives. Some people in the FIRE community aren’t happy with their jobs, their fitness level, or their lives, and they believe that reaching FIRE will make them finally be happy. In addition, the term “FU Money” also has a bad vibe and can rub people the wrong way.
Rather than looking at FIRE as the end goal and having such a strong desire to not ever have to work ever again, let’s focus on what makes us happy and content right now. Enjoy the journey by having hygge along the way.
Incorporating hygge into our FIRE plan
You may wonder, how do I consciously incorporate hygge into our FIRE plan and everyday life?
- Turn off wifi and data on my cell phone
Mrs. T has been telling me that I check my phone way too much. Lately, I have become conscious how often I do that when I am at home. As part of my hygge practice, I started turning wifi and data off on my cell phone back in December when I am at home. This has allowed me to be more present with the kids and Mrs. T.
- Spending special time with my kids
Every day, I spend a minimum of two times 10 minutes each of special time with each kid. Each kid would decide what he or she would like to do with the 10 minutes. During the 10 minutes, I am completely present and play along. Some special time activities include playing Lego, playing Duplo, drawing pictures, reading books, pretending to be a horse while having the kid riding on my back, and building a mattress fort.
- Sitting down with Mrs. T every night to have hygge
Every night after the kids are in bed, Mrs. T and I would find time to have hygge. It can be sitting down and talking about our day or our future, having a nice cup of chai latte, hot chocolate or tea, watching a movie, or reading books. Having hygge with Mrs. T without the kids has helped us improve our relationship.
- Making meals or baking treats together
We aim to get everyone involved as much as possible when we make a meal or bake treats. Our kids are 4 and 1.5 and they have been helping with making cookie dough, cake mixes, and putting toppings on pizzas.
- Not having a fixed FIRE date
Unlike some FIRE bloggers, we don’t have a fixed FIRE date. Instead, we practice being financially independent, despite not FIRE yet. We don’t have a specific FIRE date because we understand things will change. We have two young kids and we also plan to live abroad in the future. We know we will reach FIRE eventually. Not having a fixed FIRE date has allowed us to be flexible with our FIRE plan while focusing on enjoying the special day-to-day moments.
- Say yes to pleasurable expenses
Being a saver at heart, it has taken me a very long time to learn that it is OK to have pleasurable expenses like having a nice cup of coffee while sharing delicious hand-crafted chocolates with Mrs. T. or going to a nice restaurant and ordering whatever I want without looking at the price. It is about slowing down and enjoying the moment with the special people in my life. FIRE often has a bad vibe because many people focus on extreme frugality and reaching FIRE as quickly as possible. FIRE is not a sprint, it is a marathon. It is totally OK to spend money occasionally.
These are just a small number of things that we have been doing. I believe they have allowed me to focus on the present moment, instead of rushing to the FIRE finish line for the sake of being FIRE’d.
Gotta go…gotta have hygge!
Incorporating hygge into my daily life and our FIRE plan has allowed me to find my personal balance between spending for today and saving for the future. What is the right balance for me, however, may not be the right balance for you. It is up to each of us to determine our own personal balance between spending and saving.
We all need to realize that we are extremely fortunate contemplating about FIRE, as there are many less fortunate people in this world that do not have a roof over their head and cannot even have a proper meal to satisfy their hunger.
Treat FIRE as part of life, slow down, have more hygge, and enjoy the present moment.
About the author
Bob Lai from Vancouver, Canada blogs at Tawcan.com. A millennial, frugalist, investor, photographer, author, and outdoor enthusiast, Bob started his financial independence journey in 2011 after a financial epiphany. Since then he has amassed a dividend portfolio paying over $1,100 per month and is practicing being financially independent every weekend.
Tawcan the blog was created to chronicle his quest for joyful life and financial independence from a Canadian perspective. Self-taught about personal finance and DIY investing without any formal training, his focuses include stock investing, passive income, millennial money, frugal living, self-improvements, and life philosophy.
Root of Good’s thoughts:
Love the message, Bob. I’ve been enjoying hygge all along without knowing what it was called!
Campfires must be hyggelig too, right?
Could you get into the concept of hygge in your own life? Are you already embracing hygge without knowing it?