“Hygge to the Danes seems to be what freedom is to Americans,” says Meik Wiking, chief executive of the Happiness Research Institute and author of “The Little Book of Hygge” and “The Little Book of Lykke.” “It’s ingrained in our cultural DNA.”
And hype over hygge doesn’t appear to be dissipating. There are more than 3.4 million posts on Instagram bearing the #hygge hashtag, and Wiking’s “The Little Book of Hygge” has become an international bestseller that has been translated into more than 30 languages. As recently as mid-April, Denmark applied to have the word added to UNESCO’s list of “intangible cultural heritage,” alongside flamenco from Spain, yoga from India and Neapolitan pizza from Italy.
Its international success has book publishers scurrying to find authors in various parts of the world willing to contribute their country’s cultural pearls of wisdom. A slew of pocket-size lifestyle guides has resulted, offering a wide range of mindfulness philosophies and feel-good advice.
Why would Americans be looking across the Atlantic to find prescriptions for happiness? Frankly, we could use the advice. The United States recently ranked No. 18 on the World Happiness Report, which is substantially lower than comparably wealthy nations and down four spots from last year’s report. In fact, we’ve never cracked the top 10. Denmark, on the other hand, ranks consistently in the top three.
“A lot of people feel that they have gotten richer without getting happier and are looking abroad for new sources of inspiration,” Wiking says.
Here are five imported lifestyle concepts that have the potential to reach hygge status in the States. They range from discovering your life’s purpose through thoughtful reflection (ikigai) to relaxing and drinking at home alone in your underwear (pantsdrunk).
Rough translation: “Not too much and not too little.”
Where it’s from: Sweden
What it is: This holistic, less-is-more mentality is all about living simply, harmoniously and sustainably, and striking a happy work-life balance. It is closely tied to the Swedish cultural and social ideology of fairness, moderation and balance, and places an emphasis on collectiveness over individualism.
How to incorporate it into your life: Author Niki Brantmark of “Lagom: The Swedish Art of Living a Balanced, Happy Life” recommends taking a fika (a break involving a hot beverage or a treat) to recharge your batteries during the workday. She also recommends decluttering and creating a capsule wardrobe at home to reduce stress and boost productivity.
Rough translation: “Reason for being.”
Where it’s from: Japan
What it is: Forget about slowing down and cozying up by the fire, hygge-style. This age-old Japanese tradition is all about movement, specifically uncovering your life’s purpose and going after it. In the West, it is often associated with a Venn diagram with four overlapping qualities: what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs and what you can be paid for. Within the intersection of these four spheres lies your ikigai and recognizing it will help you become more satisfied with your life.
How to incorporate it into your life: Do a little soul-searching and decide whether the career track you areon brings you joy and purpose. Does your job give you a reason to jump out of bed in the morning, or does it make you want to hit the snooze button? If it’s the latter, it may be time to reevaluate.
Rough translation: The word derives from “gezel,” which means “companion” or “friend.”
Where it’s from: The Netherlands
What it is: This Dutch term extols the warm-and-fuzzy feeling of coziness and togetherness you get when you surround yourself with people, places and things that are comforting, relaxing and good for the soul. Like hygge, it exudes warmth and contentment, but at its core is more sociable and less insular in nature.
How to incorporate it into your life: Take time to relax, unwind and de-stress with friends. Invite them over for an informal glass of wine or dinner at your home. Good food, company and conversation are sure to inspire the warm-and-fuzzies. Likewise, eliminate negative or emotionally wearing individuals from your life.
Rough translation: “Free air life” or “open-air living”
Where it’s from: Norway
What it is: The deeply rooted philosophical lifestyle is centered on the joy and appreciation of nature, outdoor activities and beautiful scenery. It’s about embracing the outdoors, improving your relationship with nature and experiencing the pleasure of being outside, either alone or with others.
How to incorporate it into your life: Camp, hike and forest-bathe (taking in a forest atmosphere through the senses), or simply incorporate bike rides and strolls into your routine. Encourage kids to play outside, develop their own relationships with the natural world, and strike a healthy balance between screen time and green time.
Pronounced: “Pants-drunk” or “cal-sar-y-cuhn-eet”
Rough translation: The phrase derives from “kalsari,” which means “underwear,” and “kanni,” which is “the state of inebriation.”
Where it’s from: Finland
What it is: Technically, it’s “planned solitary relaxation, recovery and self-empowerment to help face your future challenges,” but, according to “Pantsdrunk” author Miska Rantanen, it is, at its simplest, “imbibing alcohol in one’s underwear at home without any intention of going out.”
Rantanen was originally inspired to publish “Pantsdrunk” as a satirical response to the hygge craze and “self-help phenomenon,” but he quickly saw that the Finnish concept resonated with global audiences — especially Americans. “It’s fast, cheap, easy and democratic,” he said in an interview.
How to incorporate it into your life: After a busy workweek, feel free to ditch your plans — and your pants — and stay in. Instead of “Netflix and chill,” Netflix and kalsarikannit.