Speaking in quiet voices while Bach plays softly in the background. Spending the afternoon with friends and family, drinking mulled wine or hot cocoa and eating delicious, slow-cooked meals. Curling up on the softest couch in the world to read your favorite book all day. Lighting scented candles that give off the most perfectly soothing aromas and the quietest, calmest glow.
Any one of these delightful activities counts as hygge, a Danish term that isn’t really translatable, but is more of a feeling—of coziness, intimacy, serenity. One writer who’d spent three years in Denmark described it as “the absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming; taking pleasure from the presence of gentle, soothing things.” Pronounced “HUE-gah,” hygge is the Nordic answer to joie de vivre—with perhaps fewer cigarettes and more tapered candles.
When I first heard about hygge, it was a freezing cold winter afternoon. My friend had been alerted to the phenomenon’s presence on a date, if I remember correctly, and she spent a few minutes showing me examples of hygge on Instagram. We scrolled through pictures of freshly baked bread alongside homemade honey butter; piles of folded sweaters; dimly-lit tables laden with cheese and olives and fresh fruit and herbed crackers; gratuitous candle porn; and many, many shots of slippers. You might say hygge is pretty much tailor-made for Instagram. (But please don’t say that, because—depressing.)
Hygge is perhaps less of a tradition and more of a way of life—it seems engrained in the Danish culture. Denmark, by the way, enjoys a covetable spot among the five happiest countries in the world—up there with Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, and Canada, according to a World Happiness Report released by the U.N. last year.
People are taking notice. Though at one time hygge was mostly enjoyed in native lands, these days it is quickly infiltrating unhappier countries—ours included—that could use a serious deep-chill. A quick Amazon search reveals no fewer than 10 books about hygge published recently or to be published in the near future, including The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living (coming in January) and How to Hygge (just published).
Though classic hygge is most closely associated with insanely comfortable living room hangs, you can also partake in hygge solo. Or outdoors. Hygge, it seems, can be found in a cup of coffee sipped in the sun. Or by relishing a blue sky or a rainbow. But if you want to take on hygge 1.0, throw a bunch of vegetables and protein in a roasting dish, light a few candles, and invite your nearest and dearest over on a Sunday afternoon. A little Bach in the background never hurt anyone.
Ahead, find 31 images to get you in the mood for a little hygge—and some sweet shopping picks to give you a final push. Who can resist major relaxation when there’s a scented candle and bath salts lying around? Just don’t blame us when you find yourself hibernating from sunup past nightfall, cozied up with your favorite people and foods and scents and music. Hygge is the best.