A “Hygge” Marriage: What the Danes Can Teach Us about Happiness in Marriage

by | Jun 3, 2024 | Connecting, Life | 24 comments

Hygge Marriage in Denmark

The Danes can teach us a lot about how to be happy in marriage!

I am back from three weeks offline (which was amazing, and which I desperately needed), and during that time my mother and my husband and I took a cruise of Northern Europe, spending time in Denmark and Norway.

One of the big things that the Danes (and Scandinavians in general) are known for is their happiness. On surveys of the happiest countries, Denmark always scores near the top, if not the very top, and other Scandinavian countries aren’t far behind.

So I was curious about this, and talked to lots of people and bought some books on it. I want to explore it in greater detail on the blog and podcast coming up, but today I just want to share some general thoughts that are useful when it pertains to marriage. So here goes!

Why are Danes so happy?

Tons of people have researched this, and one of the main reasons is that the Danes have a lot of social support. They don’t have to worry about what will happen if they’re unemployed, or get sick, or need time off because a family member is really sick, or how they’re going to pay for their education. All of that is taken care of. So the big things that often weigh on people in other countries just aren’t a factor for the Danes.

(I know this is a huge area of political debate, and I really don’t want to get into whether this is a good idea or a bad idea economically, but it certainly does show up on happiness scales worldwide–the more social support, the happier people tend to be.)

The Danes also trust their government, and they have very low corruption, so the feeling is that we’re all in this together and making things better for everyone.

These things can’t be ignored, and so I needed to say that as a backdrop, because a lot of us, no matter what we do, can’t replicate Danes’ happiness if we have bigger systemic problems, like huge medical bills or no support when we’re escaping an abusive marriage, etc. When just trying to survive is hard, life is just difficult. And so if you’re in that position, I’m not saying that trying OTHER things the Danes do (that I’m going to turn to now) is magically going to make you happier. I get that sometimes life is just plain difficult, and I’m not trying to discount that at all.

But assuming that you’re not in survival mode, let’s look at what else the Danes do that can make them happy!

Danes have a concept called “hygge” that relates to happiness.

Hygge is hard to translate into English, but here goes:

What is Hygge?

It’s that feeling of coziness, or hominess, or warmth and camaraderie. Think of friends sitting around a table while a stew is on the stove, talking with mugs of hot cocoa, and then playing board games. It’s just what makes you feel at peace and at home.

Think candlelight and fireplaces; comfy clothes; conversation with good friends; hearty food that’s tasty but not overly difficult to make; reading books; playing games; etc.

Imagine you have a Sunday afternoon when you don’t have to do very much, so you just read a book and maybe knit a bit. In English, we tend to call that “having a lazy afternoon.” But do you notice how that has a negative connotation? The Danes would call that having hygge, and it’s a positive thing, not a negative thing.

That’s because the default for Danes isn’t to be working or producing. Those things are means to an end, not the ends itself. Relationship and peace and meaningful experiences are the things that make life great, not accomplishments.

When Danes think about having a fun time, they don’t necessarily think about spending a lot of money. They think about experiences that get at the heart of relationships and peace.

In Denmark, hardly anybody works late or after hours. While that would be seen as a necessity for young people in North America or other European countries (or Australia, etc.) as they get established, in Denmark they worry about you if you work late. Do you need more support? Are you working too slowly? What’s wrong?

The Danes value experiences over things.

We didn’t see huge stores in Denmark. We saw small stores, and most people shop super close to home (also because most people bike to shops; they don’t drive. More on that in a minute!).

Having tons of stuff isn’t practical in homes much smaller than those in the “New World” like the US and Canada (and likely Australia and New Zealand too!). So the emphasis is not on buying stuff nearly as much as it is in enjoying life and relationships.

It’s simply not as consumer oriented a country, and that means that attention isn’t spent on having to get a bigger income to get more stuff or a bigger home (though of course everyone naturally wants a bigger income!).

Here’s a lovely residential street in Copenhagen. Note the number of bicycles, and the emphasis on letting kids play outdoors:


And because people don’t necessarily have as much disposable income, when they do get together with friends, it’s less likely to be in a restaurant, and more likely to just enjoy a meal and a night of conversation or board games or laughter at home.

While cafes are a big deal (so people get together for coffee and danishes), getting together to go to restaurants isn’t as much.

The Danes are physical people.

People bike. Everywhere. (Here’s a typical Danish “parking lot”.)

People bike with kids, and many Danes push a carrier on a bike that can hold up to 4 or 5 kids (bikes are often hybrid with some battery power). These carriers are also really handy for grocery shopping, or picking up just about anything.

Bike lanes are everywhere, and bikers take precedence (even over pedestrians).

So Danes tend to be in good physical shape.

(Although smoking and drinking are far more prevalent than in other Scandinavian countries, and the government is trying to discourage those things).

Now, Denmark is FLAT. I can’t see people biking like this where I live. They also can bike year round, even in winter. We can’t with all the snow. And it doesn’t get up to 100 degrees there either, so heat isn’t a big detractor.

But Danes’ life focuses on the physical. They bike. They take walks. They want to be physically comfortable, with comfortable clothing and fireplaces. They allow themselves to physically feel. Life isn’t just intellectual or ideas; it’s experiencing things.

I wonder how much better our sex lives would be, and our libidos would be, if we practised living life physically and not just mentally?

These practices lead to happiness–and I wonder if some of our marriages could learn a thing or two as well!

As we head into summer, I’m determined to bike more (even grocery shopping; I still have a bike trailer left over from when the girls were young that I can use for hauling groceries!). I want to exercise more. But I really like the emphasis on experiences over things; on people over possessions.

I’m hoping to do more board game nights at our house–my husband and I always have fun playing board games, and I think it builds our marriage when we have fun with other people too.

I want to focus on cooking easier meals that simmer for longer (think slow cookers and stews and soups) rather than things that are more intricate and require 6 different pans.

I want to focus on living in the moment, rather than thinking about all the things I should be doing.

I want to enjoy hygge, and that includes enjoying downtime with my husband. 

If you’re interested more in this concept of hygge, here’s a great little book that explains it (which is free on Kindle Unlimited):

We had a wonderful time the last few weeks being offline. It reminded me that sometimes I focus so much on what is going on “out there” in the internet world that I forget what’s right in front of me.

I’d love to explore this idea of what brings happiness more (equality is a huge one, and I think I may dedicate a whole post to that!). But I’d also love to know what you think.

What means “hygge” to you? How have we missed the mark when it comes to happiness? And what have we gotten right? Let’s talk in the comments!

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Jenny

    We call it “Seinfelding” when we get together with family and friends and just have sloppy joes or something and chill. We talk about “nothing” that usually includes funny random things, discussing “pointless” things the nuanced differences between what counts as a cake, brownie, or bar, and stuff like that.

    I also own what could easily be considered a ridiculous number of throw blankets, and I love nothing more than to hand them out to guests to snuggle into with a cup of something hot and tasty while we chat and do “nothing”.

    I think individually speaking, we’d all do better if we decided “alright, I’m going to work X hours a day, and I’ll hustle harder the whole time, and then at Y time, I’m done. No housework beyond tossing my plate and fork in the dishwasher and starting it. And making that time not 10 at night. More like 6. If everyone in the house is taking care of their chores, then everyone can just be done.

    And then in addition to that, if we embraced not perfect houses. Let people see you live there! Make your get togethers pot luck style where everyone brings something. Have get togethers that are no more complicated than coffee and cookies with everyone in sweat pants and tees.

    Reclaim the hanging out we used to do in high school. It’s still legit.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Completely agree! And this is pretty much what the research says too. And I love just hanging out like that too (and I’m about to knit another throw blanket!)

  2. Belinda

    I was introduced to hygge (hew guh) by my Danish exchange student a few years ago. It so easily defined my own personal preference! I struggle with genetic memories of the Great Depression (my reasoning for why I have to make myself let go of useful-ish items), but it’s more scarcity mindset than materialistic. And I love a cozy hangout.

  3. Jen

    This has been on my heart for so long!! I’m always saying we suffer because we no longer function in tribes or clans. We are so very alone in our society. I have my own version of hygge, which I call “cozy”, but it means all the same things. I’m thrilled that you’re discussing this, and I’m excited to hear your ideas for how to implement this way of living in a hyper-driven, materialistic society.

    COVID actually helped our family as we started working from home more and putting more boundaries in place. My husband’s confession of betrayal has also influenced his attitude toward work life balance as he works to heal and become a safe partner.

    “Climbing the ladder” leads to really big falls, not happiness. I’m glad you had a relaxing trip!!

  4. Lily

    This is an interesting concept! I have read multiple books on the subject of Hygge/Danish culture, such as “The Little Book of Hygge,” “Holy Hygge,” “My Year of Living Danishly” and “The Danish Way of Parenting.”
    Embracing Hygge concepts in winter has cured me of the seasonal affective disorder I experienced for years.
    Something to consider in the research of Danish marriage is Denmark’s high divorce rate – Among the top 12 in the world according to a 2021 study. So, a balanced approach would say “What positive things can we learn from this culture?” as well as “Why are so many Danes dissatisfied with their marriages and divorcing their partners?”
    One of the books I read claimed that the divorce lawyers in Denmark are the busiest in August, because most Danes go on vacation in June and July, and may vacation for weeks at a time. After being with their significant other for a concentrated amount of time, they call it quits on the marriage.
    All of that said, I would love to visit the Scandinavian countries and I hope you had a fantastic trip!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s interesting! I don’t actually like using the divorce rate as a measure, because a high divorce rate is not necessarily a bad thing if it means that people are getting out of destructive marriages rather than staying in them. I’d rather look at rates of abuse and marital satisfaction. I’d love to see some comparisons on that with Danes! (For instance, conservative evangelicals often tout their low divorce rate as a success, but they also have more problematic marriages.)

    • Marina

      I wonder if the Danish have their own issues with rushing into marriage? If so many divorces happen after spending a lot of continuous time with each other, it almost sounds like people marry without really getting to know who they are marrying. Like, you live with this person, why would being around each other more change any dynamics that already exist? I don’t know honestly, it just sounds so weird.

  5. Jennifer

    I love the concept I would love to implement it. However, our friends are so busy with their kids sports they don’t have time to get together. Everyone is so busy. We only have one child and I’m so grateful he does not play sports. He practices his instrument and that’s it. People that do have time for me and my women’s group are ones who have kids that are too young for sports, no kids, and 1 is an empty nester.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, we certainly keep our kids really busy here in North America!

  6. Sue R

    Not sure who said this, but it could apply here: “The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I love that!

  7. Laura

    Wow! You’ve got me sold on Denmark and I think we have that book at my library. I want to ride my bike more but I have to do it very early in the day because I live in one of the hottest states. I’m looking forward to !earning more about hygge!

  8. Marina

    I almost have a hard time understanding hygge. I understand cozy, but just sitting and talking for a long time, with no particular thing to do? Although games do sound fun, so long as you don’t play with people who think that the higher their voice volume, the better they play. I guess I am very task oriented. If you have time, could you discuss the difference between hygge and just social talking? I guess I just keep imaging visiting relatives or church socials and just sitting through conversations that rarely stray from people and events that I have never heard of. I contribute occasionally when the conversation goes to topics I do know, but my experience of social talking is mostly “my fourth cousin’s niece has a boyfriend again” or “remember that ____ girl we used to go to school with? Here’s what I heard about her…” You also don’t bring up hobbies (prepare for blank looks) and books/video games you like (do you want to risk a “this is what is wrong with the world today” thinly veiled rant? The answer is no..)
    I hope I’m not being confusing. I guess my question summarized is: How can social talking be cozy, instead of either a gossip fest or a mine field?

    • Angharad

      Hygge isn’t just about being with friends or family. You can have ‘hygge time’ on your own too. And there’s no reason why you can’t discuss ‘things’ such as hobbies, books or other interests – but you wouldn’t discuss anything unpleasant or argumentative during these times. I think it’s one of those words that doesn’t translate well into other languages, as even Danes seem to struggle to produce a satisfactory definition. It’s about taking time out in a peaceful (and usually familiar) place to enjoy simple pleasures. That could be curling up with a good book and a hot chocolate on your own, pottering around baking in your kitchen or inviting a group of close friends around for a relaxed, informal meal.

      I remember hearing a Danish woman speak several years ago about the non-Danish obsession with hygge – she said that Danes found the ‘marketing’ of hygge very odd – the plethora of books, candles, jumpers, blankets etc, that are all labelled ‘hygge’ as it’s something you create, not something you go out and buy!

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, absolutely! That’s what the lectures we heard were saying–that it just doesn’t translate. And it’s more of a state that you’re in rather than something you can purchase for sure.

  9. Margaret W.

    My daughter studied in Denmark during the pandemic, and she fell in love with the country. All of these wonderful things she noticed. She did say, though, that one of the reasons for this satisfaction is that Denmark is a very unified culture; they aren’t very accepting of people from other races and cultures. She is a super pale white redhead, and people often mistook her for Danish, but her dark-skinned friends faced more struggles. The country is very reluctant to allow immigrants, and it is almost impossible to work there if you don’t speak Danish. If not for these factors, she might never have come home. 😁Especially since she works in public health, and Denmark is an absolute model for this arena.

  10. JoB

    One thing about immersion in another culture is that it shows us things about our own culture that we conform to without thinking about, the stuff that becomes “background noise” or the “water we’re swimming in.”

    And it really is hard to swim against the current sometimes. Children are expected to participate in multiple activities from the time they are little, and it’s not enough just to show up and participate- there are practices, “homework” for extracurriculars, uniforms to wash and gear to keep track of, fundraisers, etc. These things are rarely in the neighborhood, they require drive time and waiting at the class. And even though most families I know secretly celebrate when a practice or a meeting is canceled, they won’t get off the merry-go-round because they have FOMO for their kids. All their friends are doing it, so they have to as well. (Even if the kids have little interest in the activity and lack the self direction to practice without parental nagging and the ensuing conflict.)

    A lady from Kenya in my Bible study once shared that one confusing aspect of US culture for her was the abundance of gift giving. She wasn’t sure what to make of “Secret Santa” gift exchanges at work, or why so much buying was expected generally- for everything from kids’ birthday parties to the excess that is Christmas. I have heard from several non western Christians that our Christmas season is about material things (gifts, food, decorations) but not much about spending time together. But at the same time, we might face judgment if we show up empty handed, with just love and good wishes, people might judge us as cheap or uncaring or lazy. Or again, fear that our kids will feel deprived if their gifts don’t compare favorably with their friends’.

    I think social media has fueled this FOMO to an unreasonable level.

    • JG

      I agree about the gift giving at Christmas. This past Christmas, when my extended family got together to celebrate, was the first one that we decided not to do a gift exchange. We had a wonderful meal (My aunt asked every family to contribute something to the chosen menu. It was a family favorite that my grandmother introduced us to when she was still living). My aunt also asked us to bring a favorite desert too. We got to visit with other family members without feeling pressured to also bring gifts. I hope this new tradition continues in my family.

      • Chantal

        We do a gift exchange in my family every Christmas. The adults do one separately from the one the nieces and nephews do (there are 16 of them). One of my brothers handles it through a name-drawing website so it’s really easy. We did toy with the idea one year of picking by family instead of individually, with the idea that the gifts given would be intended to foster that family’s internal community.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Really interesting! I think you’re right about kids’ activities too.

    • JoB

      I think this has to be an important part of the “mental load” discussion. Just as much as discussing how the load can be shared fairly, we have to look at where the load is coming from and our assumptions about what we and our families “need” and what is motivating our choices.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, and a big part of Danish life is also equality and sharing the load, so this is an important element too.

      • Willow

        Isn’t that often the issue with mental load? One partner is thinking about all the things that need to be done, and the other partner doesn’t see that they need doing at all.

  11. Holly

    I do have some thoughts on this, as I live in Norway. And I’m so upset you didn’t come visit! My husband is a huge fan! He said, “She didn’t come see me!” But I bet you were on west coast anyway. So it is absolutely true that Norwegians know how to create an atmosphere. They have it down pat. Although they are known for their happiness, that’s a complex issue, and it depends on what you value as a culture. I promise if you come visit Oslo in February, and make out like you’re NOT a tourist, you’re experience won’t be quite the same. There are lots of things you give up for the social support. For one, like another commented, they aren’t very accepting of outsiders. Now, I’m very persistent, so I’ll say I have some great friends, but it has been a lot of work! And I doubt I would’ve been quite as successful outside of Christian culture. It’s fair to admit though that some of the things I miss about America are also within Christian culture. The second thing you give up is flexibility. As long as you follow exactly the prescribed path that all of society has deemed correct, you can be fairly successful. (It is almost impossible to live here on one income, so that includes sending babies to daycare at 1 year. You hardly have a choice.) The last thing is there is little social connectedness. Uniformity, yes, but not connectedness. Since the government provides so much, don’t expect anyone on your door step if you have a baby or meet with a crisis. I don’t mean to bash on Norwegians. Once people trust you (FINALLY!) you can have some very solid friendships, but it will definitely have a different slant than what you would expect in the states. And also… to be transparent…. I do appreciate escaping a lot of the issues here that you discuss in your books and podcasts. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist here. Norwegians are very private, and as an outsider, I am shielded from such issues. Come visit in the fall or at Christmas and I’ll show you some REALLLL hygge!


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