Hygge, unhygge

The opposite of hygge is uhygge. Uhyggelig means scary. As in walking in the woods  and feeling the danger scary.

Into the Woods.jpeg

It follows that describing hygge as simply ‘cosy’ is missing out on the safety aspect of the feeling. If security and the sensation of ‘no harm will come tonight’ is missing, it doesn’t matter how many candles you light or whether you are on a soft leather sofa with a cup of coffee; the feeling won’t be hygge.

And hygge stresses the importance of feeling hygge in a group; of belonging and acceptance.

This leads me to think that hygge must be higher up on the Maslow pyramid of human needs than simple safety.


 Having said that, the fact that security and safety are part of hygge means that the hygge-fan has to work on achieving that, if only for a small time, before true hygge is achievable. We can’t strive for hygge if we haven’t built a life that has security as a basis point.

Perhaps that’s why hygge is a whole-country thing in Denmark, because their high taxes and generous social security net mean that many more people are safe from worry about food, housing etc and can build on that security to be hyggelig. In Britain, hygge is a very middle class concept (see which newspapers have gone hygge mad for evidence), whereas more equitable Denmark is free of classness and lets everyone be themselves and be hyggelig together.

Can Britain hygge as a nation? Yes, I think so. We possibly have to accept a slightly different approach will work for everybody. We are, after all, a nation of individuals who like doing the same things in groups. We are a very tribal nation, and we tend to hang with our tribe. I have tribes already, with my family, my work colleagues and my church friends. To have a properly hyggelig year, do I need to branch out, or work on making my social life (and by extension theirs) a proper hygge experience?

My aim for the year is to hygge in an ordinary British life. I think I need to search out places where I can get my hygge on; safe places of comfort and cosiness, places to share with family and friends, and activities that will create a sense of belonging and fellowship. I’m away this weekend, but when I come back I’ll start asking and looking around for places in Liverpool that other people find hyggelig.

Today’s resource recommendations;

Helen Russell wrote a lovely piece on How Living Like a Danish Woman Made Me Happier (and Why It Can For You Too) for Stylist Magazine.  I particularly love her advice on how to live a more Danish life; five really important snippets of advice on getting happier.

  1. Trust More
  2. Get hygge
  3. Leave Work on Time
  4. Use your body, outdoors
  5. Make your home beautiful. Turns out a pretty home is a good step towards a happy home.


I read her book, The Year of Living Danishly when it was first published (and regularly fall asleep to the audio version; yes, I am that sad person who likes to listen to bedtime stories to fall asleep) It’s a good read, all about how her husband got offered his dream job working for Lego and the move they made to rural Jutland where she set about finding out what makes the Danes so happy. Hygge features a lot in the book, which is witty and informative at the same time. Helen tweets at @MsHelenRussell as well. I’m not ashamed to say, I envy her the chance to move abroad. My husband is a solicitor and law is actually quite a fixed profession. He couldn’t even move to Scotland without a re-train, so Denmark for a year would be beyond our wildest dreams. That’s part of the motivation for being more Danish here. 

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