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Finding hygge and happiness in Denmark

Finding hygge and happiness in Denmark


As one of the happiest countries in the world, Denmark has been ranked in the top ten every year since the World Happiness Report began. We sat down with Meik Wiking, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, himself a Dane to dig a bit deeper into Danes and their happiness.

How do you define happiness?

Happiness can be defined as the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.

Why does Denmark rank high in the happiness ranking?

On an individual level, the Danes are exceptionally good at decoupling wealth and wellbeing. After our basic needs are met, we realise that more money does not lead to happiness and, instead, we focus on what brings us a better quality of life.

How does the Danes’ take on “hygge” play a role in your happiness ranking?

“Hygge” is about an atmosphere and an experience that doesn’t actually require any material things – it is a feeling.

It is a fundamental part of Danish culture; being together with our loved ones, feeling safe, feeling comfortable, being in an environment where we can let our guard down.

It is about making the most of each and every day, and one way to do that is to allow ourselves time to enjoy the simple pleasures in life.

So, in this way “hygge” becomes a driver for happiness on an everyday basis. “Hygge” gives us the language, the objective and the methods for planning and preserving happiness – and for getting a little bit more of it every day.

Where do you feel the happiest in Denmark?

Every summer, I go to Bornholm, a beautiful rocky island in the Baltic Sea. I have a tiny cabin there and the areas around the cabin have been the scene of many fond memories, many to do with foraging.

What is your best advice on how to take on “hygge” as a non-Dane?

The true essence of ‘”hygge” is the pursuit of everyday happiness by embracing the small things in life that really matter. It is basically like a hug, just without the physical touch.

“Hygge” can be triggered by specific tastes, smells, sounds, sensations, looks as well as by the feeling of safety and security. Here are some suggestions for how to “hygge”:

  1. Make a “hyggekrog”: Every home needs a “hyggekrog”, which roughly translates as “nook”. It is the place in the room where you love to snuggle up in a blanket, with a book and a cup of tea.
  • Bring in nature: Danes feel the need to bring the entire forest inside. Any piece of nature you might find is likely to get the “hygge” green light. Leaves, nuts, twigs, plants… Basically, you want to think: How would a Viking squirrel furnish a living room?
  • Think tactile: A “hygge” interior is not just about how things look, it is just as much about how things feel. Letting your fingers run across a wooden table or wrap around a warm ceramic cup is a distinctly different feeling from being in contact with something made from steel, glass or plastic.

What are your three recommendations visitors can do in Denmark to find happiness?

  1. Visit The Happiness Museum to learn why Denmark is often called the happiest country on earth, what hygge has got to do with it, and how you can measure something as subjective as happiness.
  • Hire a green kayak for free and explore Copenhagen from the water.
  • Explore the historic cobbled streets of Copenhagen city centre, find a sunny terrace a to sit down and soak up some summer hygge.

What are your top three places to go in Denmark?

  1. Bornholm: The scene of many of my happiest summer memories.
  • Møn: I went to this gigantic white cliff for the first time while writing the Art of Making Memories. I spent the afternoon looking for fossils and humming the theme tune from the Indiana Jones movies. A happy memory for my treasure trove.
  • Fejø: About once a year, my friends and I go to this small island in the southern part of Denmark known for its apples. There are few things more hyggelig than spending a day in an orchard picking fruit.

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