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?
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Hygge sounds absolutely delightful!
It’s a great practice. 🙂
I must have been living under a rock haha. The first time I saw hygge was on your (Tawcan’s) blog a few days ago! I had to look it up and didn’t really understand it, but this post makes much more sense :).
I like the comment about practicing being financially independent without getting there yet. It’s so true that when you learn about FIRE you try to optimize your entire life around savings, and it does make you miserable for a bit before you loosen up.
It sounds like the American (well, I don’t think we invented it) concept of Mindfulness. I’ve been meditating a lot more recently and trying to “be in the moment” as you describe it. Most of my life, I’ve been multi-tasking everything, even when watching Netflix, I’m playing a game or reading a blog, and it’s hard to focus on just the relaxing portion.
Thanks for the reminder for not forgetting to live and enjoy ourselves while we’re on the journey to FIRE :).
Likewise Olivia! I had not come across hygge before until Bob’s post and now here again on Justin’s via the same source 🙂 .
Also good points on focusing on the relaxing portion of an activity.
🙂 Thanks Mike!
Haha, I’m surprised that you haven’t heard it until you saw it on my blog. Yes hygge has a lot of similarities as mindfulness but hygge is so deeply ingrained in the Danish culture. It’s funny how many times that my wife would ask me if I want to have hygge together. Hard to tell someone to have mindfulness together.
Lol, maybe FireBear and I can meditate together on the weekends. They must be happier over there, the Danish! It’s a good export of theirs :).
I like the analogy to mindfulness – being intentional in what you are doing. As for the multitasking, I’m too often guilty of that. I just have to put the computer down, turn it off, and kick my feet up to better immerse in the viewing experience.
If you want to work on the mindfulness, try the HeadSpace app! There was a 1 year long free code a while ago, if you search you might still be able to find it! It makes it easier if someone else is telling you how to meditate :). For me at least!
Same — I’m still “twitchy” when I watch a movie. Every 10-20 minutes, I’ll be like, how long is this, I could be doing something productive and then it won’t be relaxing at all!
I love the concept of hygge. In many respects, it is practiced, in a similar way, in Latin American countries (I loved it when I lived in Mexico). And it is something we definitely need to practice more of in my own life. I think a lot of us, including myself, need to learn to incorporate it more because the truth is no one will care if I do one more thing with my career or x in 100 years. It is about finding the balance now and something I hope to figure out as I go along.
Definitely a good thing to incorporate hygge (or similar concept) into your daily life.
Great post! I absolutely love the idea of hygge. One of my goals this year is to stay off of my phone more and be present in the moment. Thanks for the reminder!
Mindless phone surfing or gaming definitely seems like the anti-hygge. Though I suppose it’s not that much different from reading a book if you’re reading a good article on your phone.
I have never heard of hygge before. It reminds me of the concept of trying to do one thing each day that makes you happy. There is even an app that strings together one second videos of those happy moments so you can make monthly or yearly compilations.
Doing one thing each day that makes you happy is a very good practice.
Clearly I’ve been living under a rock because I had never heard of “hygge” until this post!
I agree, Tawcan, that we all need to slow down and enjoy life. What’s the point of living if we’re always rushing from place to place, never enjoying it.
Very cool that you are putting hygge into practice. I’m going to go do that right now actually! Right after I answer these 50 emails, read a pile of blog posts and write 20 blog posts….
JK 😉 20 blog posts…as if…more like 50.
JK. Okay I really need the Asian tiger mother voice in my head to stop screaming at me now.
I think it’s time to go back to Denmark and learn their ways…
Hahaha, I’m surprised because I’ve been noticing a lot of articles and books on hygge in the last couple of years. But I guess you notice things more when you are looking for it.
Take a deep breath and slow down is the key. There are so many times that my wife reminded that I could take 10 minutes to sit down and have hygge together and go back to work on various projects later.
You need the Asian Tiger Mom to scream “hygge” at you until you relax and do it 🙂
Never heard of hygge either! But we do practice it a lot in France! We just don’t have a name for it!
I remember my husband (Canadian), the first time we went to visit my family, begging me after a few days if we could just skip ONE meal. It is so common to sit down at lunch time and not be done until after dinner! A full day of socializing at the table (on week ends of course:).
Congrats for finding the time to “hygge” with a full-time job, a wife,kids and a blog!
Thanks Caroline. That’s so cool you practice it a lot in France. Generally speaking, I think a lot of Europeans are much better at slowing down their lives and enjoying the finer things in life compared to Americans.
Ha ha, I know that feeling at all day family gatherings where they keep offering you food and you’re like “enough! I’m full!”.
Well I learned something new today, thank you. It does seam pretty similar to our get togethers at Thanksgiving and Christmas because they can be pretty long, drawn out gatherings with food and then more food, then play cards and then bring the food out again. I will usually suggest a walk in there somewhere to feel a little more comfortable and also try to keep to many people from falling asleep on the couch.
Haha long meals with people you love are the beset. 🙂
Woahhh, look at that toilet paper fort!
I’ve heard of hygge on Netflix somewhere. It’s suppose to be like wearing a nice sweater with cocoa on a cold winters day – which does sound pretty sweet!!! 🙂
Yea, I’d say that’s the “baisc” level of hygge. Hygge 100 I suppose. There’s more to hygge than wearing cozy clothes and sipping hot chocolate on a cold day. 🙂
I wonder if watching Netflix while sipping cocoa and lounging in warmth qualifies as hygge. Given my love of Netflix, it should! 🙂
Well hey there, Bob! Omg I love that toilet paper fort.
And you’re absolutely right! Even for us non-retired folks, it’s important to incorporate luxury/happiness/hygge into our daily routine. You can’t wait for a magical date to be happy with your life. The best time to feel happier is right now.
That toilet paper fort is rad, I should do that with my kids. 🙂
It was only $100 for all that TP (400 rolls I think). Got a great deal on it and we’re just using the last few rolls right now (after 18+ months of working our way through the supply 🙂 ).
And the best part of it is that it doesn’t have to cost very much at all.
It looks I have been living under a rock, too. The first time hearing hygge. Still learning, I have to copy and paste the word to here. I’ve been enjoying it without knowing it. Very good thought.
I like slowing down, especially during each meal. After spending so much time cooking, it’s worth the time sitting down and enjoying the meal. Why should I hurry up? I’m not excited to clean up the dishes anyway. I never did the fast food drive-through, still like to walk in, see and feel the restaurant.
Have to say, I’m a bit shocked that many of ppl that commented haven’t heard of the term. Maybe as PF bloggers don’t check read these lifestyle news/articles too often?
Funny you mentioned about cooking, it never made sense to me to spend hours cooking and just chow down the meal in less than 5 minutes. Don’t you want to enjoy the food?
I like to spend plenty of time eating too. And when I’m done eating I like to spend a few minutes before getting up and running off to the next thing.
I had read a few articles about hygge and thought it was cool. But this was the best explanation I’ve read so thanks.
I like winter time, so to me it would be perfect to practice hygge up in New England in winter, preferably some remote cabin in Maine. I need to get on that…
Thanks, I appreciate that. Had to double check with my wife to make sure I didn’t go off the tangent on explaining what hygge is hehe. 🙂
Sounds like a plan! Enjoy the snow from the inside of a warm cabin! Down here in the South it’s more like enjoy the rain from inside our warm house. 🙂
I have never heard of this hygge thing. It sounds good, though. We definitely need to slow down and relax more. I’m doing pretty well, but Mrs. RB40 is frazzled all the time. We have hygge once in a while, but it would be better if we plan for it more often.
Definitely have more hygge and slow down to enjoy your life. 🙂
Huh, apparently I live under a rock. I adore the concept of hygge, even if I will be spending a few hours practicing how to say it. This basically embodies my favorite things. I love just sitting with a blanket and tea or cocoa, reading, staring at snow falling or a lake or a sunset, and sitting for hours with good friends, eating and drinking and talking and laughing.
My family and friends group growing up used to have all-day parties all the time for no reason at all, and essentially we were doing hygge. I miss that community and am trying to re-build it for us in our lives now. I need me some more hygge. Thanks for sharing, Bob & Justin. (Also, HOLY COW that’s a lot of TP! Guess the blizzard didn’t even phase y’all…)
Sounds like you got the right idea. That’s awesome you’re already practicing hygge without knowing it.
“Blizzard”? Is that what we’re calling 8 inches of snow now? 😉 It was barely enough to sled in!! And so slushy on day 1 we had to wait till the next day to get some serious sledding in. But yeah it shut things down GOOD here in Raleigh.
I’ve been hygge-ing extra lately and getting back into my tea-enjoying. Trying to use up all these randomly collected tea assortments from hotels, cruises, and airbnbs throughout Europe. 🙂
Haven’t heard of this term before, but I like it! Even just pronouncing the word properly (had to google it), is strangely relaxing.
A hyyge a day, keeps the doctor away!
It’s hard to pronounce it. #1 pet peeve my wife has is that many of the “hygge” articles you see on the internet are not well researched. Writers are just copying and pasting the pronunciation. It’s not pronounced “hoog!”
When I was growing up, my extended family, aunts, uncles, cousins etc would get together for a whole day of talking, eating, walking. Sadly, as the older generation has died off, this tradition has vanished. I wish we could get it back.
A time before big screen TVs and a smartphone in everyone’s hands.
We have a no phone and no screen policy when we eat. When we go out and eat occasionally, it’s always amazing to see ppl eating with cellphones in their hands the entire time.
Yes, it’s like the North American equivalent to hyyge is a culture ingrained in constant cell phone usage. Even just applying this no phone and no screen policy while eating would be a great improvement for my relationships. It’s not as easy as it sounds!
Yeah, I don’t get that. The whole point of going out to eat is to enjoy the time out with others. Maybe we’ve lost the art of entertaining ourselves sans the glowing screens 🙂 Or maybe they’re all reading Tawcan or Root of Good and polishing up on the latest FIRE strategies (in which case I’ll graciously offer them a pass just this once).
A lasting memory of Denmark for me is the lamps and vase of flowers that were placed in house windows and looked so cozy from outside when the lights were on in the houses at night. I think that maybe hygge as well.
I get that feeling when walking through my neighborhood at night during nice weather times of year. Families having dinner together with muffled voices barely audible from the street. The smells of cooking coming out the windows. The glow of lights.
That’s definitely hygge. Many Danes decorate their windows during Christmas to make them look extra nice too. 🙂
The Dutch concept of niksen seems even more relevant to the concept of FIRE.
Especially for Americans who are so “go go go.”
The answer to “What will you do all day?” can easily be “My friend, let me tell you about niksen.”
Reminds me of the old saying “I set out to do nothing all day today, and only managed to accomplish half of that.” 🙂 Good to hear from you, Joe!
I’ve seen the term “niksen” more and more too. Man, the Europeans definitely got things right when it comes to taking life easier.
have not been living under a rock, but never heard of hygge. Though we have the same concept in the Netherlands, we call it ‘gezellig’. Just wanted to share that 🙂
Apparently the concept is out there under different names in many different cultures/countries!
Cool, yeah I don’t think hygge is a new concept. Many countries in the world have the similar concept. I guess maybe us North Americans are just slow in adopting this slower lifestyle.
I’ll be honest — at first, I thought “what is this trendy nonsense doing on RoG?” I previously avoided articles on hygge because I thought it was going to be another thing to add to my should-do list. I loved reading your explanation though, and surprisingly, I am already practicing this on a small scale. I have more thoughts on the topic… but my four-year-old is currently asking for hygge in her own way! Thank you for the wonderful post.
Hahaha, good to know you didn’t ignore this trendy nonsense article on here. 🙂
Glad that you loved my explanation and that you are already practicing hygge on a small scale.
Go spend time with your daughter 🙂 That’s hygge right there!
I heard about hygge from a British, planner you tuber (Mrs. Brimbles) about a year ago. I think it’s more popular over there. I’m glad to see it work itself into the FIRE world, which makes sense because FIRE is about living life on your own terms. Hygge is a great way to implement the concept. Thank you for the great read!
Exactly, FIRE is about living life on your own terms and enjoying your life. Hygge is a great complement to FIRE.
Hygge is core Scandinavian – it is all about being in the moment with blankets/family/food/candles/ taking it slowly, even though you’re having a busy schedule.
I like your part about enjoying things with out worrying about money occasionally. That is an important word. If you indulge all the time the things you enjoyed will loose meaning and become commonplace (and then add up $$$). Remember sweets, etc. are at the top of the food of life pyramid…