Defining Hygge: The Nordic Art of Coziness

Pronounced "Hoo-ga"

What many of us have been referring to as ‘hibernation’ all these years, the Danes have an affectionate name for: Hygge. How do we love hygge? Let us count the ways! This feel-good phenomenon has taken the Instagram world by storm over the last few years. If you’re not familiar, let us paint a picture:

The room is subtly lit with countless candles and low incandescent light. In the corner, a fireplace crackles. People are cozied up together in small intimate groups, some reminiscing quietly, others not talking at all. The glow and sound of cellphones is non-existent, instead people fiddle around with the touch and feel of sheepskin, or a wooden puzzle. The smell of fresh bread wafts through the air, and a nearby table is covered in sweet pastries and mini cakes. You hear the sound of a hot drink being poured – coffee? Tea? Mulled wine? Someone over by the fire reaches for a cozy throw blanket and vintage book. The soft sound of laughter resonates throughout the room, as the snow piles up outside. 

Do you get it now? This is quintessential hygge, hominess, gezelligheid, koselig, gemütlichkeit, or whatever you want to call it. But the people of Denmark don't just give it a name, they embody it. Perhaps that's why they are constantly being recognized as the happiest country overall.  

Studies have shown that as sunlight lessens, so to do our levels of serotonin, yet Denmark – a small sub-arctic country where the sun often sets before 4pm – is one of the world’s top three happiest countries.


This is what Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute set out to uncover with his book, The Little Book of Hygge. Is hygge really the reason the people of Denmark are so much happier? 

The science behind it is sound: while the recipe for a hygge experience may consist of the simplest things in life, together they deliver a serious dose of the feel-good hormone, oxytocin. From the ‘togetherness’ to the warm and fullness, oxytocin is released when we are calm, warm, and satisfied.

“Hygge is humble and slow. It is choosing rustic over new, simple over posh, and ambience over excitement.”

- Meik Wiking

CEO of the Happiness 

Research Institute


You have probably stumbled upon true hygge several times in your life, maybe often at home, but this unplugged sensation is harder and harder to come by outside of the home in our ultra-connected world. Restaurants and hotels may take style cues from the hygge rulebook, but hygge is not just a decorating style. It’s a way of life! 


It’s about a closeness to nature, whether you’re indoors or out. And it's not limited to the winter. It’s mushroom foraging in September. A soup cook-off in November. A summer picnic in May.

Think of hygge as the anti-technology. A return to simpler times... one could even say it's nostalgia brought to life. And in an age when everyone is overly connected, there's a lot of nostalgia for the time before tech. 

"Hygge is about giving your responsible, stressed-out achiever adult a break. Relax. Just for a little while. It is about experiencing happiness in simple pleasures and knowing that everything is going to be OK." - Meik Wiking

When it comes to the United State's newfound obsession with hygge, it’s no surprise that people are searching Google for ‘hygge’ in the northern, colder states like Vermont, Minnesota, Montana, Maine, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska and Washington. And we adore this list of Top Ten Hygge Cities in the U.S.

So the next time you enter a place with more candles you can count and a hyggelit vibe is drawing you in, grab a glass of something warm and find a cozy spot to cocoon in.


Living the Hygge Life

Celebrating Comfort in Colorado

One couple leading the hygge movement in the US is Alexandra and Koen of Hygge Life. In the summer of 2014, after a trip to Copenhagen, they purchased an old 1971 Opel Blitz camper van, painted it blue, put their Hygge Life logo on the side and travelled Europe. They made their way through France, Spain, and Switzerland selling poffertjes (mini Dutch pancakes), Turkish textiles and other treats, spreading the hygge love.


Since returning to Colorado, they have opened a brick & mortar and online shop with a collection of European home décor inspired by hygge moments. A few years ago years ago when they first opened shop, no one really knew what hygge was. But now Alexandra says people are becoming more and more familiar with the concept and are eager to adopt it more intentionally.

Having a word for these special moments and cozy spaces helps us to create them more often and acknowledge and appreciate them more. - Alexandra Grove

When asked what she felt was the most essential part of hygge is, Alexandra said lighting. “To me it is one of the most important elements of hygge, including candlelight, natural light that comes in from windows as well as artificial lighting. Creating the right dim lighting in the evening around the dinner table or during a gentle morning moment can be magical and helps to create hygge in many different types of settings.” In Denmark and the birthplace of Hygge, candles are often unscented – it’s more about the glow than the smell.

As the store started taking off and more customers were craving hygge experiences, Alexandra and Koen started hosting hygge dinner series for their family, friends, and community. “We find cozy, interesting spaces and make sure that the seating arrangement is intimate and the lighting dim. We drape soft sheepskins on the benches or chairs, line the table with a ton of candles, fresh flowers and mismatched dinnerware. We also partner with a calligraphy artist to write thoughtful, handwritten menus. Little touches like these make the dinners extra special.”

Throughout the dinner, they tell stories. They talk about the thought behind the food, drinks, décor, and environment. The food is cooked over an open fire – the ultimate hygge cooking method. Every detail is meticulously thought out to engage all of the senses, so guests can see and appreciate the love and time that goes into the evening.


“The food is then served family style to encourage interaction and connection. We really do find that strangers become friends after our dinners. It’s a beautiful, special experience. What really makes these dinners unique is the thought, collaboration and hygge that goes into them.”

Makes you want to hop on a plane to Colorado for the next one, right? Well, if you ever are in Colorado, be sure to visit Alexandra and Koen at the Hygge Life. From candles to sheepskin rugs, they have everything to help you embrace the warm & fuzzy feels – no matter the season! And with a hygge cafe in the works, you may just want to spend all day there. 


Top 10 Hotels For Hygge Hospitality

According to Condé Nast's Women Who Travel Group Members

Special Note To The Hospitality & Tourism Professionals

Put your own spin on hygge and remember that hygge can be epitomized in any season. Ask your customers what makes them feel comfortable and at ease. It's often the little details that make the greatest impact. 

Tea Time!

Spring Forecast