Why Denmark is the happiest place on earth

By Danielle Annecston

Contributing Writer

I recently spent four months studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark—reported the “Happiest Place on Earth 2016” by BBC News. In my four months away from home, I discovered many differences in Danish culture that I’ve integrated into my everyday life upon returning home. The biggest change I’ve made is adding ‘hygge’, pronounced “hooga”. Hygge is believed to be one of the main reason Denmark is rated the happiest place on earth.

There is no direct translation for hygge in the English language, but the closest word is “cozy”. Yet hygge is so much more than just “cozy”. It is a mindset that you take with you throughout the day and is defined by each person differently. To further understand the meaning behind this lifestyle,
I asked three of my Danish friends to define what hygge means to them.

I first asked my friend Gustav. At 20 years old, Gustav has a worldview far beyond his years, yet still finds a way to let his young soul shine through. He took some time to think over my question before replying, “Hygge to me is subtle, joyful, honest, worry-free, flowing interactions with other living th
ings.” To give an example from our conversation, Gustav describes hygge as “an interesting conversation under the right setting.” Gustav explained this by referencing a relationship between animals and humans. He explained that, “you can sense that a being which doesn’t understand or perceive the world like a human does, knows that it can trust you.”

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Credit: Danielle Annecsten

Next, I reached out to my friend Bo. The best way to describe Bo’s personality is to imagine a teddy bear within a human body. He easily facilitates conversations that delve into intimate subjects without making you step an inch outside your comfort zone. Bo’s response stuck closer to the root of a lot of definitions of hygge, “the small comfort and fuzzy feeling you get when you’re around people you like and doing something that reminds you of how close a bond you have, or are going
to have.”  After our discussion, Bo and I proceeded to message each other for another hour to catch up on each other’s lives, re-affirming his belief in hygge moments through bonding.

The last friend I messaged was one of my closest friends abroad, Caroline. Caroline has an ease about her that brings every situation to life. Caroline and I chatted lightly as she processed an answer, trying to find the right words. Her first response was “hygge is something that can’t really be explained in words.” Just like the closest translation in English being “cozy”, Caroline described hygge as a feeling. “It is something that I would argue everybody knows of, but doesn’t have a word for. Hygge is when you hang out with your friends for hours at someone’s house or at a café; hygge is lounging in front of the television with your loved ones—and the absolute biggest pizza you can order. It will sound cliché, but hygge is simply the moments we cherish, it is when we can relax and not stress so much. Hygge is the antidote.”

To me, hygge is sharing all my favorite memories from my time abroad with my friends from home as we make up for lost time. Or it’s adding a little extra cream to my tea in the quiet of my early morning wake-up routine as I take a moment to myself. There is no one definition of hygge. Hygge is what you make of it. It’s taking that extra moment to step back and breathe during exams, or making the choice to spend an extra 10 minutes with your friends before starting your homework, or simply curling up in a comfy chair on a rainy day with a book. As Caroline described it, “Hygge is the antidote.”

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