Can Hygge Improve Your Health?

Hygge, the Danish happy-cozy approach to life, is blowing up in social media and showing up in scads of new books on bookstore shelves. It’s become so popular that Oxford Dictionaries nearly named it “word of the year” for 2016. But is hygge good for your health?

Plenty of people think so. It has been described as “healthy hedonism” and prescribed for everything from colds to seasonal affective disorder. But can a lifestyle trend centering on candles and board games really be good for you?

What is hygge?

There’s not a direct English translation for hygge, but it loosely translates to a sense of comfort, togetherness, familiarity, security, or well-being. Hygge is about savoring and cherishing even the most mundane experiences that bring joy, and acknowledging those moments that create feelings of happiness and well-being.

You know those moments when you look around and feel satisfied, as though everything is perfect? Feeling the wind in your hair and the warm sun on your face as you go for a bike ride. Sharing a cup of tea with a friend on a lazy Saturday morning. Sitting around a cozy fire with your family on a chilly evening. That’s hygge.

Everyone feels hygge, but not everyone indulges in those moments. Hygge as a practice involves acknowledging all of the little joys in life, and reveling in them.

Healthy hygge

Some aspects of hygge are very healthy: reducing stress, biking and hiking, home-cooked meals, and time with friends. Stress management, physical activity, and healthy eating are all staples of a healthy, happy life. When those things also happen to bring you comfort, that’s an added bonus. But hygge isn’t always healthy.

Unhealthy hygge

Not everything that brings a sense of comfort is good for your health. It’s hygge to go for a long walk with friends and family. But it’s also hygge to sit around eating cake. Sweets and alcohol are strongly associated with hygge. So is curling up on the sofa and watching TV.

While unhealthy eating and sedentary lifestyles may bring comfort to some, they don’t contribute to good health.

Perhaps the best approach towards hygge is to focus on the healthy things that make you feel good, and avoiding the unhealthy things that bring comfort. You may find both exercise and watching television hygge, but one of those activities is good for you while the other is not. Focus on healthy activities and behaviors that are hygge and shy away from those that are less healthy.