The Secret to Danish Happiness (You’ll Never Guess)

Written by on November 6, 2015 in Conscious Living, Happiness & Humor with 50 Comments

Photo: Moyan Brenn (CC-BY-20)Photo: Moyan Brenn (CC-BY-20)

By Jessica Alexander | GreaterGood.Berkeley.edu

For over 40 years in a row, Denmark has been voted as one of the happiest countries in the world. During this month’s Democratic primary debate, candidate Bernie Sanders said, “We should look to countries like Denmark” if we wanted the US to become a happier place—a comment that triggered fierce debate about Denmark’s public policies.

What is the secret to the emotional success of this small Northern European country? In our new book The Danish Way of Parenting: A Guide To Raising The Happiest Kids in the World, I explore this question with my co-author, Danish psychotherapist Iben Sandahl. At least part of the answer lies with the Danish way of “hygge”—pronounced “hooga.”

The word dates back to the 19th century. It is derived from the Germanic word hyggja, which means to think or feel satisfied. There are no exact translations of hygge but some attempts are “cozy” or “homey”—words that do little to encompass the full spectrum of what it is.

Hygge is essentially drama-free togetherness time. It is cozying around or “at hygge sig,” but more than that, it is being aware that that cozy time is sacred—and treating it as such. Because Danes see hygge as such a fundamental aspect of good living, they all work together to make it happen. Hygge is “we time,” not “me time”

Hygge is considered such a powerful factor in Danish happiness that some universities in the UK and the US have started offering courses on it. Many think it is about lighting candles, preparing good food, and creating a nice atmosphere. But this is only the surface aspect of hygge. The truth is, it is so much deeper than that.

So what is hygge exactly?


Try to imagine going to a drama-free family gathering. There are no divisive discussions about politics, family issues, or Aunt Jenny’s dysfunctional kids. No snide comments, complaining, or heavy negativity. Everyone helps out, so that not one person gets stuck doing all the work. No one brags, attacks anyone, or competes with another. It is a light-hearted, balanced interaction that is focused on enjoying the moment, the food, and the company. In short, a shelter from the outside world.

For some, that may sound normal for family gatherings. For most of us, it isn’t.

Related Article: Three Strategies for Bringing More Kindness (and Happiness) into Your Life

These unspoken rules of hygge are precisely what make it so special. American anthropologists who have studied Danish hygge have been struck by the effortless flow in hyggelig interactions and how no one tries to take center stage. It is a moment in time where everyone takes off their masks and leaves difficulties at the door, in order to appreciate the power of presence with others.

There are mountains of research to support how important social ties are for well-being. Feeling connected to others gives meaning and purpose to all of our lives. Social ties can increase longevity, reduce stress, and even boost our immune system. By dedicating specific time to “hygge” we can create a safe space for families and friends to be together without stress. However, it takes everyone wanting this and working together to achieve it.

Researchers also find that Denmark’s egalitarianism plays an important role. For example, a 2009 study by Robert Biswas-Diener and colleagues found that while rich Americans and Danes were equally happy, what really made the difference is that low-income Danes were much, much happier than their American counterparts. This is consistent with findings that high levels of equality translate into happier societies. Unsurprisingly, egalitarianism is also a core value of hygge, according to anthropologists. In this way, perhaps, the rules governing private life in Denmark translate into the kind of public gains cited by Bernie Sanders.

Here are five rules for hygge—some of which you may want to apply to your own life.

1. Come as you are. Be yourself. Your real self. Let your guard down. You won’t be attacked on hygge turf and you won’t attack in turn. When we strip ourselves of trying to prove something we can all connect in a much more real way. Competition, boasting, and pretense are not bonding, but rather subtly dividing.

2. Forget the controversy. If your topic is too serious, divisive or controversial, it probably isn’t hyggeligt, Hygge is about a balanced ebb and flow of discussion in a lighthearted way. The focus is on the moment and being in the moment. We have plenty of time in our everyday lives to argue and debate and experience drama but hygge is about enjoying the food, the company and not getting caught up in things that take away from that. Thus, complaining, heavy negativity, judging and arguing are not allowed in the hygge space.

3. Think of yourself as a team member. Everyone sees what he or she can do to contribute, without being asked. This makes the whole team flow better and no one gets stuck doing all the work. When everyone works together in preparing, serving, pouring, and conversing, then hygge is in full bloom. But everyone has to understand that they are part of that team.

Related Article: 5 Ways to Commit to Your Happiness & Create a Better Life

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  1. 314302492103378@facebook.com' Lessons Taught By Life says:

    ““There is no such thing as a hopeless situation. Every single circumstances of your life can change! ” ― Rhonda Byrne “

  2. 467133833380081@facebook.com' Pammy's Paleo, Gluten Free and Enjoying Life says:

    Love this story!!!

  3. 522262994605585@facebook.com' Pnina Palkovitch says:

    Everybody should read this, so true

  4. 958955374175432@facebook.com' Dale Freeman says:

    Nope sorry I don’t want over 80% of my pay to go to income tax and fees on everything. Morons

    • 497671077059940@facebook.com' Bradley Joseph Laughlin says:

      How does a 32 hour work week with the equivalent of a higher paycheck sound?

    • 958955374175432@facebook.com' Dale Freeman says:

      It way lower take home. Do your research.

    • David.vincent57@yahoo.com' Vinny says:

      You already paying it and seeing nothing for it..add all you deductions from pay to include health and dental. You find you pay more than Europeans 19% average

      • David.vincent57@yahoo.com' Vinny says:

        Europe does not pay 80% on taxes get facts right. No European really has to addition for health or dental or for school payments it comes from the tax.. You pay all that with interest

  5. 10153754820283799@facebook.com' Ariana Moon says:

    Love Sweden & Denmark we Rock

  6. 497671077059940@facebook.com' Bradley Joseph Laughlin says:

    The feeling of christmas

  7. 523310317826277@facebook.com' Patricia Jonassen says:

    iv been here for 29 years ,best move i ever made, was to move here to denmark

  8. 10205188984751316@facebook.com' Brenda Rice-Tittle says:

    Another story claims that Denmark has a very high rate of suicides.Hmm I wonder what that’s about

  9. 1493502207613405@facebook.com' Flower Haven says:

    Don’t kill dolphins in anymore, please

  10. 10153031112721899@facebook.com' Ingrid Doorn says:

    We in Belgium (and in the Netherlands) have a similar word that can’t be translated into English: gezelligheid. It means the same thing as ‘hygge’.

  11. 1256950500997643@facebook.com' Gail Marie Barrella Fatato says:

    A must read for all families!
    So important!

  12. 10156264026690192@facebook.com' Alberto Caspi says:

    Diana Agüero Brendstrup

  13. 1067102923302780@facebook.com' Bonnie King says:

    My grandma was from Denmark, came over to US when she was 15. I just met a wonderful family this past weekend from Denmark, here in the US for a 6 month vacation. I would LOVE to go to Denmark.

  14. 10205183545697148@facebook.com' Dawn Clemson says:

    Would love to live there, they have it right people get to live and not just for work 🙂

  15. 10206429314349835@facebook.com' Heidi Smith says:

    I would love to move and live there

  16. 10201018186455031@facebook.com' Carol King says:

    It IS the happiest place on earth! There is a wonderful YouTube movie called “Happiness” that shows a lot about WHY.

  17. 10205911619047185@facebook.com' Roxane Vasilia Christopoulos says:

    Wonderful natural concept from the Danish, but as far as classes are concerned, anything to make money for universities / USA. A free and wonderful concept has turned into money. WOW, THERE WE GO AMERICA. AMERICAN STYLE. TEACHING DANISH LIFE, THE AMERICAN WAY. What a contradiction. Very entrepreneurship.

  18. 10205222450385223@facebook.com' Madison Suessa-Joelle Angeline says:

    that was nice to read

  19. 10208150207617471@facebook.com' Marla Martenson says:

    Yep

  20. 10207661351361770@facebook.com' Corrina Lipshus says:

    Max Stephens

  21. 415843665274924@facebook.com' Maurice Wendo says:

    But trouble is coming to all human inhabitants the world over. (True prophecy)

  22. 1643817612571000@facebook.com' Kate Taylor says:

    Keeping it simple…..love it….

  23. 10153409319413751@facebook.com' Loreta Costa Ochoa says:

    Greta Walsh Tannia Mayorca this is really cool

  24. 10207654455030187@facebook.com' Kumiko Uehara says:

    So who can live there and how to qualify their social benefits? Do you need to be eu citizens?

  25. 10153753908754846@facebook.com' Rick Harbeck says:

    LESS THAN 6MILLION PEOPLE LIVE IN DENMARK…THIS IS SO STUPID…MORE THAN 300 MILLION IN USA

  26. 10207598059408747@facebook.com' Sussan Madsen says:

    Conscious Life News Wouldn´t it be Great if all this was facts …. well.. sorry to say as a dane living here all my life… I don´t recognize what´s written about Denmark. It´s put out as a fairytale… not reality.

  27. 562637160557942@facebook.com' Vee Davey says:

    F off. Denmark just got overturned in allowing animal brothels. Nothing nice to say about them

  28. 10205895377842650@facebook.com' Pancha Shakya says:

    Family and community

  29. 957226547650063@facebook.com' Albert Camenzuli says:
  30. 506021586242247@facebook.com' Colm Mullen says:

    Nice, if it was true!

  31. 1136303429727940@facebook.com' Jane Adams says:

    It’s a beautiful small country with very few people. That’s their secret!

  32. 1666690956949349@facebook.com' Gareth James says:

    Bacon

  33. 10156236280255427@facebook.com' Izhaar Abbas says:

    Love the Danes, Ulrik Schear Mikkelsen ?

  34. 10153765233315850@facebook.com' Tialuv Austria says:

    Philip Almazan Paraan , Kanto time…feeling connected…

  35. 10153765233315850@facebook.com' Tialuv Austria says:

    Merry Mary Kanto peeps no…?

  36. 10153123154061581@facebook.com' Keira Ninness says:

    Nicky Searle x

  37. 10206355993556854@facebook.com' Kally Goschke says:

    CLN makes up a lot of “facts”. Poor journalism.

  38. 10154509586908018@facebook.com' Wendy McCain says:

    Glenn McCain

  39. 766610370107893@facebook.com' Kirsten Hagelund says:

    I wonder who makes up this bullshit ! There are more people on anti-depressants incl. children on ritalin than you care to know, it is sickening to hear that we are the happiest country in the world, it is so not true, where does this nonsense come from ? and don’t get me started on the insane government, taxes, 25% vat, poor care for the elderly, I could go on … once upon a time I believe it was ok here, those times are gone. Stop spreading this nonsense.

    • havecenter@hotmail.com' Soren says:

      I take it that you are not one of the happy danes then, too bad, as compared with other nationalities we are satisfied and priviledged, despite the high taxes and VAT. And compared to other western countries we don’t use anti depressives excessively either. Having lived in several European countries as well as in Asia, Canada and the US, I am glad to be back in Denmark and think it is absolutely wonderful here. Lots of possibilities for everyone with the free education system, and if you want to work hard – you get the rewards quick. Hopefully you are feeling better today than when you posted that negative response! Peace!

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