Welcome to the embassy of Hygge

Library Life — published 14/11/17

HYGGE (”Heu-Gah”)

The art of building sanctuary and community, of inviting closeness and paying attention to what makes us feel open-hearted and alive. To create well-being, connection and warmth. A feeling of belonging to the moment and to each other. Celebrating the everyday.


Five years ago, I was looking for a place to work in Brussels that would be as cosy and friendly as my home, but with the added bonus of other people and office infrastructure. I wanted it to be a place, where you would feel personally welcomed, where you could snack on something homemade, where people had obviously made an effort before your visit and where your shoulders would drop to a normal level and you would catch yourself humming for no good reason. Sum up all of that and you get the essence of ’hygge’.


Over the years, the word hygge (I’ll drop the ’’ now that you get the idea) has become more and more widespread and has even made it into the Collins English Dictionary topping the list of new words in 2016 – right after Brexit. Which funnily enough is exactly the opposite of hygge, but that’s another subject. It’s even become well known in Belgium, although the actual definition seems somewhat hazy to people. Some think it’s like a sport you practice – Nordic mindfulness if you will. Some think it’s mainly about cakes. A journalist even called me recently to interview me about how to add hygge to an evaluation meeting with your boss. Which, for the record, you can’t really do. It’s not a magic wand, people. Lighting a candle, pouring tea, smiling and each other and then discussing lack of performance just doesn’t mix all that well.


Anyway, I thought I’d make an un-prioritised list of moments of hygge that you can cross-reference with your Library experience at your leisure:


  • Friends invite you over for dinner. When you arrive, there is music playing, the table has been set, there is something cooking in the kitchen. Glasses and snacks are already on the table. Your friends sit you down and ask how you are, like really are. Do you see the effort and attention that went into this? It means you are all set for a hyggelig evening.
  • It’s been a long week and you are a bit edgy and stressed out, but some of your coworkers ask you along for Friday drinks and you end up talking and joking for an hour or two, while having a few drinks. When you leave you feel a bit lighter and ready to start the weekend (you’d be surprised by how much drinking goes on at Danish workplaces).
  • It’s raining outside, you light some candles and tell the kids to come help you make pancakes. The togetherness mixed with sugar and jam contrasted with the cold, dark outdoors makes this super hygge. (It works best with some dark, Nordic winter outside, maybe also some trees swaying in a storm).
  • Your colleague has a birthday coming up, so you conspire with your coworkers to get a cake (homemade or bought, it doesn’t matter, it’s the thought that counts) and you all sit down to enjoy it together, leaving emails, phone calls and bosses be for half an hour to enjoy making somebody else’s day.
  • Surroundings: You can create hygge by adding personality to your home or office, such as adding artwork that means something to you, incorporating textiles and smaller lamps rather than overhead lighting, making sure it smells nice everywhere and that you are not too stressed out by clutter.

I think you see a trend here that hygge is about making a small effort for somebody else or for yourself to make your day just a little better. I hope that this is what you feel when you step into The Library, even if you didn’t know that it had a weird, unpronounceable name.




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