Hygge in the workplace | Workplace Mental Health Institute


You may or may not be aware of the “hygge movement” that’s happening around the world right now. I’ve been asked to speak about this on a number of occasions over the past few months, so it seems to be a topic that interests a lot of people out there and it’s particularly relevant to wellbeing in the workplace. So here are the top 10 questions people have asked me about hygge:

First, what is hygge?

Hygge is a Danish word that can best be translated as “cozy”. It has been defined as “the appreciation of cosiness and the finer things in life”. The Danes love their coziness!


In the field of mental health and wellbeing, hygge offers another way for people to take care of themselves and their wellbeing, whether or not they have been diagnosed with a mental health problem. A hygge lifestyle is a lifestyle that is self-aware of its own well-being and its relationship to life in general.

Why do you think hygge has become popular right now?

As a society, we’ve never been happier financially and materially, so we’re more concerned with the existential questions of happiness, fulfillment, and well-being than with mere survival.


Our world is going through very exciting times. It also means that the rate of change we’re seeing is unprecedented in many ways. As humans, we have a craving for excitement and security. We want enough changes to make things interesting, but too many changes will make us insecure. If we’re going to change the constant flow of information we’re exposed to, it’s no wonder people are looking for a breather. I think hygge is one method out of many that can give people the comfort of slowing things down a bit.

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So how does hygge help mental health and well-being? What is the research?


Anything that helps busy, stressed, overworked, or overwhelmed people to slow down and pay attention to what’s nice and comfortable in their lives can have a powerfully healthy and positive impact on people’s lives. While I’m not aware of any direct studies on hygge, it’s important to remember that hygge has elements of well-researched benefits like “slow down and take notice.” Or in other words, it’s very similar, if not the same, to some of the core processes of mindfulness, and this has been shown in research to be extremely beneficial and antidepressant. And “appreciating the finer things in life” or gratitude has also been studied extensively in positive psychology, elements we cover in our resilience course, which have found to not only have anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects, but also neural pathways building for it makes it harder to experience negativity and easier to experience positivity.

What innate human needs are people trying to address with the concept of hygge?

We have an innate need for comfort and protection. In the old experiments with baby monkeys (we wouldn’t do that today), they took them away from their mothers and gave them two choices – a metal mechanical device that gave them food, or a metal mechanical device that fed them with a soft one cloth gave them comfort, but no food. The monkeys chose comfort over food every time.

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I believe hygge helps people to meet their needs for closeness and love, but also for security and certainty. But it’s important to understand that hygge isn’t the only tool that helps people do it.

In your experience, how do people feel when they adopt a hygge approach to life?

All in all, the return to the simplicity and connection that hygge promotes helps to bring joy to life. It can have the effect of reconnecting people to life, connecting them to others and freeing up time for their relationships. It can help bring more joy into people’s lives and prevent them from turning everyday pressures into stress. After all, we are social beings. We need this connection to be successful.


These simple activities, like lighting candles or sitting by the fire, are things that can, and often do, slow down time for the person. It brings you into this time and space. This is very useful for taking care of your mental health. If you are doing this exercise with a loved one, it can help to reconnect with that person on a regular basis, creating a sense of closeness and love – very important and fundamental needs for us too!

What is the most important thing you need to do/consider to make hygge work for you?

Rather, hygge is a way of life that leads to appreciating the little things and respecting your own way of doing things. In that sense, your hygge will be very different from my hygge, but that’s fine as long as it gets me to really connect with inner appreciation for the little things. Even if hygge is an approach, a philosophy as such, it is the small exercises you do every day that will bring deep inner change and joy.

What barriers can people encounter when adopting hygge practices? How would these be overcome?

One of the challenges people face in our societies today is simplification. It’s a common trap that people try to take something as simple and natural as hygge and turn it into a to-do list. The moment you start hygge as a life to-do, you run the risk of becoming a source of tension instead of a source of relaxation and connection. Make sure you practice, but don’t turn hygge into a “new belief system” of sorts. Enjoy it. Have fun with it. But don’t get obsessed with it. That wouldn’t be hygge.

How to introduce hygge in the workplace?

Some ways that workplaces can adopt hygge is by taking care of the physical environments they create and making them “human friendly”. Managers can be very useful here and take the lead. However, remember that a “people-friendly” office is defined by the people who will be using it, not the boss.

For example, I like nice, clean, minimalist office spaces with no distractions, but I have colleagues who love to decorate their workspace with pictures, poems, etc. to really make it their own cozy space. So hygge is partly figuring out what really works for each employee to get that sense of peace and security and doing it.

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Have desks for people who love desks, but relaxing sofas or chairs for people who love working in a more “relaxed” way. Make sure this is promoted. Do you have natural light. Make sure people take breaks and move. Encourage small chats.

Another possibility is for managers to encourage their teams to recognize the little things they’re grateful for at work every day — whether it’s that the coffee maker got fixed or what a nice walk they took to the office that day had, or a smile and a pleasant conversation with a colleague. Too often we always focus on what’s next instead of appreciating the good at work and enjoying the time spent there. After all, we spend a large part of our lives at work. And the research is overwhelmingly clear that when we’re comfortable and enjoying ourselves, we produce more.

Does the hygge concept have disadvantages?

Everything has disadvantages. For example, if you’re using hygge to escape from deep issues that require your attention, then that’s not a good use of hygge. Hygge doesn’t fix anything, it just helps give you the peace of mind you need so you can focus on more important things afterwards. If you don’t use your refreshed state of mind to think of better ways to live life, then hygge is wasted.
Another thing to be careful about is that sometimes we have to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone to achieve something great. Living in total comfort is neither natural nor good for you. We must stretch beyond our comfort. Think about it, maybe everything great you have in your life is because you did something that was a little bit out of your comfort zone – whether it was going to the interview for that great role or your current one asked a woman out on a date. If we are not balanced in our approach, we will not achieve anything. But right now I think we’re out of balance going the other way. People feel overwhelmed and a little hyggee brings them back into balance.

How do you respond to critics who think it’s a superficial concept that represses and ignores the darker things in life?

I think it’s a little hard. When it comes to good mental health, we need to make time for everything. A time to focus and address the darker things in life, and a time to take a welcome break, so to speak, to recharge our batteries. I think hygge, if it’s your thing, can help you with that. Of course I would like to invite you to look at more tools than just hygge. In our Building Resilience At Work course, a workplace course, we teach workers and managers over 12 different powerful tools to give your psyche a break and help people master their emotional selves. A real smorgasbord of choices. Why so many? So you can choose what you want, according to your taste and personality.


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