Danes apply for UNESCO status for hygge

Did you know that our Danish friends have applied for UNESCO status for hygge as ‘intangible cultural heritage’?

I must admit, I was pretty surprised about this when the press release dropped into my inbox. I always thought UNESCO was for physical sites of cultural heritage – I had no idea that an intangible concept like hygge could feature on the list! You learn something new every day don’t you! I had a look at some of Denmark’s current UNESCO sites, and it looks as though hygge could be joining a fjord, castles, a sea and a hunting landscape. In fact, if you have time, I really recommend taking a look at the full list – it’s a cool reminder of all the cool things we have on this weird little planet. I was curious, so decided to look at the selection criteria for making the UNESCO World Heritage List, and it looks to me as though hygge would fit into criterion (iii):

to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilisation which is living or which has disappeared.

I have no idea if I’m right or not, but it’s interesting to see how broad the criteria are in reality. I think when most of us think of UNESCO sites, we think of ruins, grand castles, palaces… so I for one think it would be amazing to see hygge added to the list.

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In the last couple of years, ‘hygge’ has become a massive buzzword in the English-speaking world, and particularly so in the UK. ‘Hygge’ to marketers and retailers means selling lots of chunky blankets and tealights, and it’s easy to see why so many people have dismissed it as a gimmick or some passing fad. But it’s not – EVERYONE hygges, whether they want to call it that or not, and Denmark wants hygge to be recognised as a remedy to today’s anxieties. Whether it’s Brexit, soaring rent prices, job instability, political unrest or whatever else ails the world today, we can all benefit from the comfort and cosiness that hygge allows.

As you might expect, Meik Wiking, the founder and CEO of The Happiness Research Institute is fully behind the bid, saying:

“With increasing societal pressures and the growing importance of wellbeing, hygge’s emphasis on togetherness and equality can have real and tangible benefits, not only to the Danish people but to anyone that practises this uniquely Danish social ritual.

The bolded text above is my emphasis – this is really important! There’s a reason my blog’s tagline is ‘Finding hygge everywhere’ – it’s because hygge really is for everyone everywhere. Just because the rest of the world may not have a neat word for it, it doesn’t mean the concept doesn’t exist and isn’t important. It is hoped that Denmark’s bid for UNESCO status for hygge will bring the concept to an even bigger audience worldwide, which can only be a good thing. I hope more people can experience the lightning bolt I did when I discovered that the feeling I had been chasing all my life was ‘a thing’, and a thing that I wanted everyone else to know about.

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I wanted to know more, so I asked Dennis Englund, Market Director for VisitDenmark in the US and UK, why now is the right time for the UNESCO bid:

“Over the past couple of years hygge has received global attention. Multiple books have been published on the subject and the word has entered the Oxford English Dictionary. We want to avoid that hygge ends up being treated as just another fad with the risk of interpretations that are far from the Danish culture. We also believe that the fundamental quality of life that hygge encompasses is more relevant right now than ever, where many see that quality as being under threat, with growing pressure on proper work-life balance, an increasing digital complexity of social relations and the pressure on everyone to be just right.”

Dennis also emphasised that part of the significance of the bid is to ensure that hygge as a concept is shared in line with the quality of its core existence in Denmark. I’m not Danish so I can’t comment with any real authority here, but as an enthusiastic bystander I will say that ‘hygge’ appears to be becoming synonymous with ‘things I like’ in the English-speaking world – and there’s nothing wrong with ‘things I like’, but to me, the English usage of the word doesn’t always capture what I feel is the true essence of the word. And don’t get me wrong – I’m far from a linguistic puritan, and I get that words evolve over time, but maybe the concept needs to be communicated a little better – retailers, I’m looking at you – to avoid hygge becoming diluted as it travels around the world.

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I’ll leave the final word with Meik Wiking, but I’d love to know what you think about this bid! Please let me know in the comments, and I’ll be sure to keep you informed if I hear of any developments!

“The importance of intangible cultural heritage is that you have to live it”, adds Meik Wiking. “While it’s something we inherit from our past, Hygge is absolutely relevant today and will have real value long into our future.”

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Tim Cyr says:

    Thank you so much Kayleigh for sharing this news. As a person here in Canada sharing the Do Less Project, where we incorporate slow and Restorative Yoga practices into a hyggeligt manner, this is stellar news! Any way we can show the world ways to slowdown and creatively express hygge are incredible. The more the word, and the philosophy are exposed to the world… the more connected we become. Keep doing what you’re doing Kayleigh!

    1. Thank you Tim! Best of luck with the Do Less Project, it sounds great!

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