Home Life Does NZ need a dose of hygge to be happy?

Does NZ need a dose of hygge to be happy?


Scandinavia scores, based on elements of caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance, are so close that the countries can occasionally switch positions on the board, but they rarely move below fifth place.

In the 2017 World Happiness Report published by the UN, Norway jumped from 4th place in 2016 to 1st place, followed closely by Denmark – which is almost always first – Iceland and Switzerland.

New Zealand, meanwhile, came in at eighth place both this year and last. It’s a consistent score, we can’t complain, but what is Scandinavia’s secret?

The concept hygge (pronounced hue-guh in Danish and Norwegian) is part of the Scandinavian way of life.

In a 2010 dissertation titled Interweavings – A cultural phenomenology of everyday consumption and social atmosphere within Danish middle class families, hygge is referred to by Jeppe Trolle Linnet as “a pleasant and highly valued everyday experience of safety, equality, personal wholeness and a spontaneous social flow.”

Basically, hygge is the art of cosiness, simple pleasures and living well.

Still don’t get it? Think of the word “hug”. Hygge is linked etymologically to “hug” – to be encircled by a safe, content space.

There’s not one single English word that translates to hygge. Cosiness is close, but it’s much more than that. Hygge is achieved when all aspects of physical surroundings and the corresponding mood/environment align – from lighting to furniture, food and conversation.

Conceivably hygge could be bad for your health if you define your wellbeing by what you eat, but do you mind if it makes you happy?

Perhaps with hygge in mind, Scandinavian countries are also known for their well developed democratic socialism. Denmark, for example, has universal healthcare, equal employment opportunities for men and women, social security and state funded university education.

Last year the concept invaded the United States and Britain. It even caused a British backlash, with suggestions people should be more “brygge” – which isn’t very hygge and kind of bitter, so no wonder Britain is at 19 on the latest World Happiness Report.

The observation could be made that, unknowingly, people often make an effort to display hygge, especially on social media, posting perfect photos of meals and desireable products.

But a true grasp on hygge is a celebration of being present, a sense of togetherness and a natural contentedness, conversation and comfort.

By Patricia Greig



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