Hygge: The Danish Art of Happiness (2016)

How to Speak Hygge

When people from other countries talk about the Danish language they often say it is hard to learn. The grammar is very tricky and the pronunciation even trickier. Luckily, you don’t have to learn Danish in order to ‘speak hygge’.

I speak Spanish with my boyfriend, but we always use the term hygge-out when we have plans to do something hyggelig. Or vamos a hygge-out. I find it difficult now not to use the term when I speak with non-Danish people. I use ‘cosy’ to refer to all this, but I know it doesn’t convey the full message of hyggelig. It’s not that the concept of hygge doesn’t exist in other cultures, but having a word for it makes you aware of it. All of a sudden you start to become aware of the many hyggelig parts of your everyday life.

Júlia Reig from Catalonia,
living with her boyfriend in Copenhagen

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Useful Hygge expressions

The Danish word hygge is a verb, an adjective and a noun: we are hygg-ing (verb); the house is hyggelig (adjective); it is time for hygge (noun).

Hygger – Present tense of the verb ‘to hygge’, i.e. we are hygg-ing. Used to talk about doing a hyggelig activity or having a moment of hygge, e.g. ‘What are you doing?’ ‘We are hygg-ing.’

Hyggliere/hyggeligste – More/most hyggelig. ‘That is the hyggeligste place I’ve ever seen.’

Hygge omHygge around or make hygge for someone, e.g. serving them tea or snacks, making them comfortable, wrapping them in blankets or chit-chatting with them.

Hygge sig – To have a hyggelig time.

Hygge sig medHygg-ing oneself with something or having a hyggelig time doing something. Used to describe someone with a hobby, e.g. ‘He is hygg-ing himself with playing the guitar’; ‘We are hygg-ing with this do-it-yourself project.’

Kan du hygge dig/hyg dig – A popular Danish greeting or informal way of saying goodbye (literally ‘Can you hygge yourself’/‘Hyg yourself’).

There are also many compound words formed with hygge, for example family-hygge, hygge-beer and hygge-snack. At the back of the book you will find a dictionary with lots more hygge compound words.

Hygge is a state of being you experience if you are at peace with yourself, your spouse, the tax authorities and your inner organs.

Tove Ditlevsen, Danish writer and poet

Danes would be lost without the word hygge. They tell each other how much they are looking forward to hygge together, they point out how hyggelig a situation is while they are hygg-ing, and afterwards they like to talk about what a great hygge time they have had together.

The word originates from the proto-language Old Norse – hyggja means thinking and feeling satisfied and is related to finding shelter, rest and safety, and regaining energy and courage.

The impact of the words we use

Within the newer branch of psychology, called narrative therapy, we talk about our identity being created by the stories we tell about ourselves and each other. Therefore, the language and the words we use and have available to us are crucial to who we are and how we understand ourselves.

In the original Inuit culture in Greenland, there are over twenty different words for snow. That not only makes it possible for Inuits to share the experiences of the various types of snow, it also sharpens their attention to nuances in the weather and helps to broaden their experience of nature’s richness and diversity.

That’s what it’s like with hygge. The better able we are to talk about hygge and all its nuances and forms, the better able we are to realize it, create it and share it.

The word is not just a passive signifier, but a performative statement that does something for us and sets the stage in certain ways. When we call an experience ‘hyggelig’, we associate – perhaps unconsciously – a range of values with this experience. In that way, hygge claims its place in the stories and narratives about who we are and what we value.

Torkild Fogh Vindelev,
psychologist

[hYg:ә]

If you want to start including hygge in your own daily vocabulary, it might be good to be able to pronounce it properly.

Many people mistakenly think that hygge is pronounced something like hooga when they see the word for the first time. But if you want to sound like a native, here is a little guide* to how you do it. Let’s take it step by step.

The last part of the word is pretty straightforward, so let’s try that first. The ‘gge’ in hygge is the same ‘gir’ sound as in ‘girl’. That’s pretty easy.

Then the more troubling part will be the ‘y’ in hygge. Try to think of the ‘y’ as the ‘ou’ sound in ‘you’. The vowel sound in ‘you’ is a diphthong (a vowel sound containing two different sounds) – ‘y-ou’. Look at your mouth in the mirror and see it changing shape as you make the sound. The first part makes the lips do nearly nothing; the second part makes them round a bit. The ‘y’ sound in hygge is not a diphthong, it is a single vowel sound, so we must try to edit out the last part, the ‘ou’ sound that makes your mouth go round. What do we have left? The ‘y’ sound we need to pronounce hygge properly. Add an ‘h’ sound at the beginning and you’ve got it – hygge.