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The Wonderful Danish Concept of Hygge

The Personal Kaizen team has recently reviewed the tenth annual rankings of the happiest countries in the world and read several books that examine what these countries do that is different and better. Over the next several weeks we are going to review some of the differentiators we observe with the governments and people in these countries. This week we share the Danish concept of hygge.

2022 Rankings of the Happiest Countries in the World

Below are the 2022 United Nations Rankings for a few of the Happiest Countries in the World. We share a few of the positive outcomes that contributed to the high ranking and one defining word for the country. Our previous post looked at how good policy and sisu have made Finland the happiest country in the world for the past five years. Denmark is second on the list and nearly as happy as Finland.

RankCountryContributing to High ScoreDefining Word
1FinlandFreedom, communal support, trust Sisu
2DenmarkSupport, trust, equalityHygge
5NetherlandsGenerosity, low corruptionNiksen
7SwedenLack of corruption, GDP, life expectancyLagom

Some of the key factors and ranking questions for the study are:

Two hands holding a gift box adorned with a small string bow. Perception and data on generosity like gift giving.
  • Life expectancy data
  • Gross domestic product (GDP) data
  • Perception and data on generosity
  • Perception on freedom to make life choices
  • Perception on crime and corruption
  • Equality and trust
  • Do you have social support from friends and neighbors?
  • Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday?
  • Were you treated with respect yesterday?

You can read the entire report with the study rationale here. For comparison, the United States finished in 16th place in 2022, a slight increase from the 19th place finish in 2021.

What is Up With the Climate of the Happiest Countries?

When I imagine the happiest country on earth I immediately think of a tropical location with beautiful weather. These places are not ranking as the happiest countries though; the top countries are actually far from the equator. In fact, the eight happiest countries (Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Sweden, and Norway) are all located above the 45th parallel in latitude – a latitude north of Maine! That means cold, dark winters – a December night in Copenhagen, Denmark is over 17 hours long and the average temperature is below freezing!

All of this cold and dark leads to a longing for togetherness and warmth that you might find when snuggled up in front of a fire. The Danish have a word for this feeling – hygge.

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living

A book laying on a table surrounded by cozy elements light candles and string lights. Danish Secrets to Hygge.
Photo Credit: Polkadot Paradiso

Author Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, wrote The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living in 2017 after Denmark had been named the happiest country in the world for four consecutive years. Hygge (pronounced “hoo-gah”) is a Danish word that translates roughly to “coziness.” Practicing hygge will create a feeling of well-being and warmth and will also strengthen relationships.

In essence, hygge is about creating cozy social gatherings and intimate get-togethers with family and friends. It’s the feeling of well-being and a warm atmosphere. Danes prioritize making time to enjoy life, be happy, and practice contentment.

The Little Book of Hygge recommends incorporating Danish ideas like hygge into your own life. Tips for practicing hygge from the book include:

  • Get comfy. Take a break.
  • Be here now. Turn off the phones.
  • Turn down the lights. Bring out the candles.
  • Build relationships. Spend time with your tribe.
  • Give yourself a break from the demands of healthy living. Cake is most definitely Hygge.
  • Live life today, like there is no coffee tomorrow.

Additional Reasons Danes are Happy

The idea of hygge isn’t the only reason the people of Denmark are considered some of the happiest in the world. Here are some other cool differentiators:

Two people riding bicycles in a snow covered town.
  • Cycling: Denmark has no mountains and is quite flat, making it perfect for bikers. Only 40% of Danes own a car while 90% own a bike and more than half of Copenhageners bicycle to work every day! The benefits of biking include exercise, time outside, and less traffic and air pollution.
  • Social services: Danes pay high taxes but get a lot in exchange. Denmark has free universal healthcare, free education including college, reliable and extensive welfare benefits, and a reliable democracy with a perception of the lowest corruption in the world.
  • Equality: Denmark has a word (Janteloven) that represents the idea that “no one is better than the other.” This promotes acceptance and equality for all, regardless of sex, race, sexual orientation, etc.
  • Work Conditions: Danes work (on average) less than 40 hours per week, and nearly everyone leaves the office by 4 PM. Danes also take much of their mandatory 5 weeks of vacation in the summertime.

More Lessons from the Happiest Countries in the World

Our next post will share lessons from the Dutch way of life. Please leave comments and questions below!

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