In the fourth World Happiness Report, released in March, the levels of happiness of people across the world have been rated by considering factors such as trust, healthy years of life expectancy and perceived freedom to make life choices.
Since the 1970s, Denmark has regularly been voted the happiest country in the world; 2016 was no exception.
Those who have attempted to explain why will talk of Denmark’s famously generous welfare system, its status as the least corrupt country in the EU, its happy, productive workforce, not to mention the pastries. But there is something more, something that is statistic-less, something so rooted in the Danish sense of togetherness it defies literal translation: hygge (pronounced ‘hoo-ga’).
Sitting by the fire, surrounded by friends, drinking mulled wine, that’s hygge. Relaxing with friends and family, sharing coffee, cake and beer, that’s hygge too. Helen Russell, author of The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country, wrote that the idea is to relax and feel as at-home as possible, forgetting life’s worries, indulging, nourishing the soul. Explaining why there is no direct translation, translator ToveMaren Stakkestad said that ‘Hygge was never meant to be translated. It was meant to be felt.’. Despite an ever-increasing curiosity, we Brits are still not quite fully embracing hygge, which probably helps explain why we are rank 23 on the list.
But perhaps this attitude shouldn’t be so hard for us to grasp. Sounding similar to hygge, the word ‘hug’, for which the Oxford English Dictionary lists no origin, once meant ‘to cherish oneself; to keep or make oneself snug’. The 19th/early 20th Century philologist Walter William Skeat thought also that the English word might be of Scandinavian origin. Hugging our way to happiness? Surely there are worse things.