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It's Not Just A Danish Word That Made Dictionary's Shortlist; It's A Lifestyle


There's a word you might be hearing a lot more in the U.S. very soon. It made the Oxford English Dictionary's shortlist for Word of the Year in 2016. It's a Danish word spelled H-Y-G-G-E. So how do you say it? Hygge. Is it hygge? Meik Wiking has my pronunciation.

MEIK WIKING: (Laughter) I think you passed the Danish test. It's pronounced hygge. So you're close enough.

CHANG: Hygge. I have to say it, like, pretty fast like that. Hygge. Meik Wiking is the author of "The Little Book Of Hygge," and he is CEO of The Happiness Research Institute in Denmark. Welcome to the program, Meik.

WIKING: Thank you for having me.

CHANG: From what I understand, hygge is actually a lifestyle concept, one that's been around for a very long time in Denmark. What does it mean to live a hygge life?

WIKING: Hygge's been called many things. It's been called the art of creating a nice atmosphere. It's been called the pursuit of everyday happiness. But it's basically building in elements of togetherness, of savoring simple pleasures, of relaxation, of comfort on an everyday basis.

CHANG: What exactly qualifies as hygge living? Like, candles or reading in front of the fire, getting together with friends? Give me some examples.

WIKING: All of the above. I think one of the most hyggelig times...

CHANG: (Laughter).

WIKING: ...I had was a few years ago when I was in Sweden with some friends. And we had been out hiking in the afternoon. And we came back in the cabin, and we got the fireplace and we had a stew boiling on the stove, and we were all just sitting back, relaxing. And it was silent, but then one of the guys said, could this be any more hyggelig - which is the adjective of the word - could this be any more hyggelig?

CHANG: (Laughter).

WIKING: And then one of the girls said, yes, if there was a storm outside. And yeah, we all nodded yes, that's right.

CHANG: Could you be hyggelig by yourself? Like, could it be as simple as lighting a candle and sitting with it?

WIKING: (Laughter) It was actually one of the most controversial questions we had within the research team when I spoke with my researchers about it. And there was one guy who insisted that you couldn't hygge by yourself, but the majority of us thinks that we can. So it was the most controversial question. But yes, you're right. I mean, lighting candles, enjoying a cup of tea, reading a book by the window can be quite hyggelig.

CHANG: What counts as not hygge? Give me an example of something that is so not hyggelig.

WIKING: You know, something that is too pretentious or something that's too expensive is not hyggelig either.

CHANG: Oh, that's interesting. Why is that?

WIKING: It's because it's something that - where everybody's equal and everybody can be part of it. You know, oysters and caviar and champagne, you know, is fun, but it's not considered hyggelig. You can use hygge as a get-out-of-jail card. If you walk into a restaurant where I think, OK, this is too expensive for my budget, I would say, shouldn't we find a place that's more hyggelig? Yeah, let's find a place that's more hyggelig. So if it is accessible. And it's not fancy food. It's everyday comfort food for everyday people.

CHANG: The irony in that is hygge is being marketed around the world, right?


CHANG: One of my producers mentioned to me that she was in the U.K. last month. She noticed bookstores had a dedicated section for books on hygge. And we're seeing businesses like Ikea and Bloomingdale's promoting the hygge lifestyle. Is there a little bit of tension there between the hygge concept and marketing it so aggressively?

WIKING: (Laughter) Yes, there are manifestations of hygge in terms of furniture and lamps and so on, but I think that's not what hygge's about. It's about an atmosphere, first and foremost.

CHANG: Meik Wiking is the author of "The Little Book Of Hygge," which comes out next month. Happy hyggelig holidays to you, Meik. Thank you so much.

WIKING: (Laughter) Likewise.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIVE ME THE SIMPLE LIFE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.