The Secret Behind One of the Happiest Countries in the World

Denmark redefines what it means to slow down, get cozy, and savor the moment.

By Susan Kamenar
Published 6 Jan 2018, 13:37 GMT
Anyone can experience the spirit of hygge on a trip to Copenhagen.
Anyone can experience the spirit of hygge on a trip to Copenhagen.
Photograph by Eugene Sergeev, Alamy

Ask any Dane to define hygge (pronounced “hoo-geh”) and you’ll hear a variety of answers that describe comforting, pleasurable experiences. Whether it’s cuddling up with a cup of hot cocoa, or lighting candles and eating cake, hygge is one of those untranslatable words that magnifies nuanced differences in cultural values.

Danish musician Oh Land, who spent time living in the U.S., explained one of those differences while sipping coffee in a park just off Copenhagen’s Jaegersborggade, a particularly hygge street of cozy restaurants, cafes, and boutiques. “Social time in America is more connected to a theme or a plan,” she said, “like watching a football game, celebrating something specific or going to a restaurant.” Whereas for her, “authentic hygge should have no label other than just meeting up with no time restriction. It’s just about being present with the people you like.”

This societal way of life, loosely defined in English as “coziness,” gained popularity around the globe. With Denmark regularly ranking as one of the happiest countries in the world, it’s no surprise that those beyond its borders are turning to Danish culture for insight on how to elicit their own happiest selves. [Read more about the World's Happiest Places.]

However, there is no magical formula for hygge, it is more about the quality of time spent than where or how you spend it, so wherever you are, slow down, get cozy, and savor the moment with close family and friends. If on the hunt for hygge while visiting Denmark’s capital Copenhagen, keep the following tips in mind to optimize your experience.

Support Home (made)

The home is central to social life in Denmark and according to Meik Wiking’s The Little Book of Hygge, “Seven out of ten Danes say they experience most hygge at home.” Instead of a hotel, rent an Airbnb and ask the host about access to candles, board games, and cooking supplies. Go shopping for anything missing and finish at a farmer’s market like Torvehallerne for fresh, comfort food ingredients, sweet treats, and drinks–everything you’ll need for a homemade hygge night-in!

Turn off Technology

Hygge is all about being present in the moment so the less distraction the better. Instead of the glare of a screen, opt for analog entertainment like reading, journaling, playing board games, crafting, cooking, or simply (non-work related) conversation.

Get Caffeinated

Danes love their kaffe and nothing feels better in the cold than a warm cup of coffee in your hands. Escape the city center’s crowded pedestrian shopping streets by wrapping up in blankets on Original Coffee’s balcony at the top of Illum mall, getting lost in the book-filled Cafe Paludan, or tending to the wood-burning fire in the cavernous the Living Room. When in the Nørrebro neighborhood, start a stroll of the boutique-lined Jægersborggade at Coffee Collective, or settle in with a book at the homey, cabin-like Bevar’s.

Seek Out Nature

From parks to cemeteries, Copenhagen’s green spaces are peaceful oases as long as you’re properly dressed for the weather. Frederiksberg Gardens and Kastellet are particularly hygge with waterways to walk along, and Assistens Kirkegaard is a cemetery where each gravesite is its own enchanted, overgrown garden, perfect for quiet reflection.


Whether in bakeries or artisanal candy shops, treating oneself to sweets without guilt is a Danish skill.

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