What is hygge

Hygge is not a tangible thing. Its recent definition in the marketing world may well consist of Nordic sweaters, creamy lattes, Danish pastries et cetera, but its description in Meik Wiking’s bestseller How to Be Hygge is focused on hygge as something that one experiences inside; as a feeling.

Those objects are merely an aid, or, more honestly, products created alongside a lexical item that describes a feeling which money can’t buy.

Though a Danish concept, many already unknowingly partook in hyggelic activities before the word existed in their consciousness.

Contrary to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which states that language determines thought and feeling, the feeling of hygge was felt in other cultures before the Danish borrowing. The word just enabled its recognition.

Because of the commercialisation of hygge, we are now, as consumers, being more mindful of the feeling; seeking to create its coziness on more frequent occasions.


Like meditation, engaging in mindfulness enables us to enter an altered state in a very real, measurable way.

Meditating silently with eyes closed for just 10 minutes a day helps the left and right brain to activate harmoniously, strengthening the core connection between the two. Studies and brain scans have shown that the middle cortex gets visibly stronger the more you meditate, showing that it’s possible to rewire the brain just by engaging in self practice.

Mindfulness is another form of meditation, but more specific to activities of daily life. It is an awareness of the situation, and your brain’s activity within the situation. Mindfulness is “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something”.

This definition is why hyggelig activities are a practice of mindfulness. The coining of hygge and its surrounding conjugates enables the mind to focus on an awareness of the feeling, thus heightening and facilitating its existence.

Mindfulness, like meditation, has the power to change the physical state of the body and mind.

Brain & body

The science: what happens to the brain when you feel hygge?

Put simply, hygge = cosy = calm = happy. So in order to understand what happens to the cells of the body during the state of hygge, it is a case of looking at the similarities of happiness.

Feelings happen by chemicals releasing into the brain, which normally happen via external stimulation.

Dopamine is triggered by things like making a purchase, buying treats or eating sugar, all of which are textbook hyggelig activities. This chemical is the reward sensor that generates feelings of optimism, energy, power and knowledge.

Oxytocin is facilitated by closeness to others, skin-to-skin contact, intimacy, hugging, social bonding, attentiveness and receiving gifts. Oxytocin cultivates fidelity which explains why traditional Danish hyggeligt in-groups can be notoriously hard to break: the cosiness of hygge breeds exclusivity.

Serotonin is responsible for controlling overall mood. Sometimes referred to as the “confidence” molecule as it is what makes people feel good. It can be triggered by reminiscing happy times; allowing the brain to re-live the experience. Expressing gratitude and appreciation for things also help to produce serotonin. The relaxing nature of hygge thus explains why serotonin is created; by paying attention to detail, being grateful, and repeating actions of pleasure.

Endorphins are a kind of self-produced morphine not dissimilar to opiates like heroin. It’s the fight-or-flight chemical that can be triggered by pain, laughing, stretching, and even by smelling vanilla and lavender scented candles. This may further explain the hygge environment of wax and fire, as well as eating chocolate and spicy foods, which also trigger endorphins.

As hygge is considered a major part of life for the Danish, this explains why they rank so high on the happiness leaderboard. They intuitively recircuit the brain by repeating happy habits as part of a daily ritual.

Tea, happiness & hygge

As a recognised ritual worldwide, tea drinking helps to enable feelings of optimism, knowledge, social bonding, gratitude and relaxation: all found in the above chemicals which together generate happiness.

A cup of tea has long been the symbol of rest, break time, stopping for a breather. Arguably, its ritual could be the pinnacle of the hygge trend, with its implication of calm and togetherness.

Without the need to purchase anything or succumb to the earthy coffee ground fumes of the latest consumer trend; one can thus enjoy feelings of hygge or happiness on a modest scale simply by relaxing with a cup of tea and friends.

Instead of letting hygge be another fad fashion-concept, we can take inspiration from its idea as a daily mindfulness practice, and make more frequent efforts to invite friends for tea, create a social groups, and to focus on the present moment. To make memories to be later laughed about, to talk about ideas, to be warmed from the inside out, to share the comfort of happiness.