Why Equality Is a Huge foundation of Danish “Hygge” (Happiness)

by | Jun 7, 2024 | Life | 15 comments

Gender Equality and couple making dinner as a part of hygge

What if equality is a prerequisite to happiness?

I started this week, as I’m back from vacation, talking about the Danish concept of “hygge”, or coziness and hominess. It’s one of the reasons that Danes are consistently among the most happy nations on earth (and frequently grab the number one spot).

I want to talk about another reason for that today, but first I’d like to tell you a story.

When we were in Denmark recently, Keith and I had dinner at the house of a couple in their late 30s with two young children. This couple lived in a row of townhouses, where, out the back door, was a big greenspace with three different playgrounds. The kids from the neighborhood were always running outdoors to play with the other kids, and it was really neat.

We were there for several hours, and this couple was making homemade pizza in a super cool oven that cooked them in 3 minutes, so we were delighted to have this pizza conveyor belt going on. It was amazing.

Setting up this dinner required a lot of chopping and preparing of toppings. So I grated cheese and chopped mushrooms, while the others did the bulk of the work. I jumped in a bit, but both of them were navigating this small kitchen and juggling tasks while talking to us.

Keith was talking to the baby, and periodically the older child would check back in, and either the mom or dad would give some direction. At one point she came inside with a friend from the neighborhood and they ran upstairs to play; a few minutes later that friend’s dad came over to bring her back.

When it came time to cook the pizzas, the husband did that while the wife fed the baby, and then at one point they switched.

The husband had prepared the dough beforehand; the wife had prepared the pizza sauce and salad.

And this looked to be like how the other families in this townhome community functioned too. They all parented. They all cooked. When company came over, they all did everything together.

They were practising absolute equality while they were making us an extremely hygge-like meal!

Equality is a big Danish value.

It’s the underpinning of their social support model, with free health care, free day care, and free university. Yes, they pay high taxes, but they also, in large numbers, don’t seem to mind because they feel as if they get so much more back. And the knowledge that there is a social safety net is really important to Danes.

(Again, I know there are political differences in the ideas of social safety nets, and there’s legitimate questions about economic feasibility, etc. But my point here is not whether or not the Danish political model is correct, but rather that they are very committed to equality in many spheres).

The Danes also rank very high on gender equality.

They’re not at the top, but they tend to rank quite high (depending on how you measure it).

And what I witnessed in that house was gender equality, not just in the couple that was hosting us, but in the neighboring families that were caring for their children interchangeably.

So let’s take a step back and ask:

Are dinner parties fun when there isn’t gender equality?

Since a big part of Danish “hygge” is getting together with friends, one has to ask if that is actually fun if people don’t all pitch in and help.

When we get ready to have people over, for instance, Keith will clean up while I tend to cook (I just really enjoy cooking by myself, so I tend to shoo other people away. I put on one of my shows and get in the zone, and it’s my me-time). But Keith will be the one to set the table, get everything ready, make sure the bathrooms are cleaned, etc.  And now that my mom lives with us, she does a lot of this too!

And when people come over, they tend to pitch in and help too.

But if I had to do everything, we wouldn’t have people over that often. That would just be too much.

If friends make you happy, but getting together with friends is a ton of work, then you miss out on a big opportunity to be happy.

But if it’s expected that when people come over they will start chopping or setting the table or pitching in, and they will help was the dishes, and your spouse does too, then suddenly it’s not as much work.

How many times have you gotten together with friends and the men sit while the women clean up?

Keith makes a point of always clearing the table and cleaning up the kitchen when we have other couples over to show that it’s not on me. At big family gatherings, it’s interesting because the younger generation of men always help along with the younger women, but the older men tend not to (except for Keith). But that puts the burden of these events on the women, and definitely takes away the “coziness” of such gatherings if they’re all a lot of work.

Equality extends to interpersonal attitudes too.

It’s not just about who is expected to work. It’s also about the idea of harmony. In The Little Book of Hygge, the “Hygge Manifesto” includes 2 out of 10 elements that relate to this:

2 Elements of the Hygge Manifesto


“We” over “me.” Share the tasks and the airtime.


It’s not a competition. We already like you. There is no need to brag about your achievements.

So status isn’t a factor. Everybody should help; everybody should be able to speak and no one should dominate the conversation. And asserting status by bragging about your achievements of focusing on brand names and looking wealthier than others is frowned upon. We’re all in this together.

Could lack of equality be a roadblock to hygge?

The search for hygge includes a whole lot of things that we can do on a personal level (like wear comfy clothes, enjoy relaxation time, get together with friends, light candles, get outdoors, etc.) that can incease happiness. But what if there are things that are underpinnings that must be there first for these things to have maximum effect? And that’s what it looks like is happening. These things work best when the underpinnings of equailty are already there.

Our society, in Western and especially North American evangelicalism, is simply not set up this way.

We’re a very consumerist oriented society, where rampant consumption, and the bigger the better, is a thing (much, much more so in the United States than Canada). And we’re much more gender segregated.

When we looked at the results from our original survey for The Great Sex Rescue, we had statistically significant results from 6 different countries, and they tended to fall in order of gender equality, with the countries (like New Zealand) with the most gender equality scoring best, while those with the least gender equality (like the United States and South Africa) scoring worst. Our lack of equality is hurting people’s experience of marriage.

(This Instagram post goes into our findings in greater detail!)

Other research has also found that the health benefits for going to church disappear for women when they go to structurally sexist churches (but men do fine).

If we want more happiness, we need to address equality.

When the burden for work and mental load is primarily on one spouse, and when one spouse is often overlooked, you won’t achieve the kind of happiness you want than when both people’s voices matter.

This is a huge finding we had from our matched pair survey, and showed up in multiple different areas of marriage (and you’ll be able to read all about it in our marriage book that launches next year!).

But I will never forget that picture of equality that was matched with hygge at that dinner–both husband and wife weaving in and out of that kitchen, caring for the kids and making dinner while also talking with their guests. That’s what works. That’s what brings happiness. And we need to find a way to make it a reality in our homes, and churches, as well.

What do you think? Is lack of equality a roadblock for happiness? How can we create more equality? 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. Amy G.

    For some reason, I’m reminded of passages in the New Testament that refer to treating people equally and not based on status. Like not wearing fancy expensive clothes and expensive hairstyles when going to church because there were people who couldn’t afford that stuff. It’s sad so many people seem to forget Jesus telling His disciples to not act like Roman governors acted(lording it over others).

  2. Laura

    “When the burden for work and mental load is primarily on one spouse, and when one spouse is often overlooked, you won’t achieve the kind of happiness you want than when both people’s voices matter.”

    I totally agree that when one spouse performs most of the household tasks and takes on most of the mental load, equality is definitely not achieved. The more you have talked about life in Denmark, I’m getting hooked and curious about that country. I’m even listening to The Little Book of Hygge on audio and just loving it.

    Living in a consumeristic society (I live in SE New Mexico which is close to Texas, where bigger is better with everything) does take away the hygge. While I’m one semester away from getting my master’s in library science and I enjoy being educated, I just wonder if all of this is worth it in the long run. I definitely want more pay being that living wages and the cost of living in most parts of the US are not livable anymore. Many Americans are having to work at least two jobs to pay for the high monthly mortgage or rent, higher cost of groceries, utilities, and high insurance rates. Sorry to be going on about negativity. While I am grateful for many freedoms in the US, I think we could stand to learn the art of hygge that other countries practice.

    From what you described about the families in Denmark coming together to pitch in with the prep, cooking, and cleaning up, I imagine many families and those in the same village did this during biblical times. Multigenerational households were very common in biblical times, so I just do not understand why Americans are obsessed with achieving the “nuclear” family. That really did not become a thing until after WWII.

    • Noel

      No. I see so many people regretting the loss of multigenerational homes, but seriously, people: they don’t work any better! In fact they are often worse. It requires very specific people and very specific circumstances for that to be a good option. Otherwise you just take your problems and compound them. We tried to live with my inlaws twice (they were supposedly in need of care.) EVERYTHING was harder. It was not “hygge”. It was the hardest period of my adult life.

      • New listener

        thank you Noel. I hear many people talk breathlessly about communal living where grandparents help raise the grandkids, etc and how “in Bible times this is how people lived” as if that automatically makes it a better lifestyle. I live in an Asian country where the ‘joint family system’ is common practice (grandparents living with children, grandchildren etc for life and the family home gets added onto with each new marriage). I try to be open minded about the culture where I’m living and leave aside my personal preferences. But it didn’t take long before friends started openly telling me how miserable they feel. They live communally out of economic necessity, but most people wish they could afford their own house. the number of horror stories of dysfunctional dynamics, especially between MIL and daughter in law–not to mention the amount of SA that happens when so many cousins, uncles and friends are always in and out of the home and young children are easy targets.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I could totally see this. My mother lives with us but it works out really well. If we didn’t get along it would be awful!

  3. Nathan


    Once. My wife’s brother’s ex came from a family that did that. The women would do all the work, and the men would sit and talk. I didn’t feel all that comfortable in that environment.

    • Lisa Johns

      I felt that question in my bones. One of the points of contention with my X was that whenever we had company to the house he would sit with them and socialize in the living room while I did all the dinner work AND listened to him making a point to order me to do this or that for guests (“Get Mary a glass of water.” “Hey babe, we need coffee over here.” “Marcus needs a napkin.”) He always stepped this stuff up when others were present. So while I loved the idea of having company, it was the very opposite of hygge for me!

  4. JoB

    I might phrase it a little differently: people are more likely to be happy when their responsibilities are not so burdensome as to cause burnout, and when they don’t feel alone when they need help or extra support.

    I really do believe in equality, including gender equality, and I believe that is the example that Jesus set for us. (Nothing is greater equality than seeing others “as yourself.”) however, I’m also a bit of a multiculturalist, and saying that gender equality, or other kinds of equality, is a “prerequisite for happiness” means that no one in non western or non modern cultures can experience “real” happiness. Which I would say could come across as a kind of cultural superiority. Many societies are deeply unequal, but people still manage to be happy in their own way, and there are compensating factors. Perhaps we could say that in industrialized, individualistic societies where there are few supports outside the nuclear family, gender equality within the nuclear family is a major factor in lowering individual stress and promoting happiness.

  5. Angharad

    I grew up with the saying: “Guests are told to sit down, relax and make themselves at home; friends are handed a tea towel.” Nothing builds community quite like mucking in with everyone else to get a job done!

  6. Kya

    My husband and I have been trying to incorporate a Sabbath into our weeks, and that has led to some interesting conversations on this topic recently.

    We were talking to some friends in our church about it, and one of the men started reminiscing about Sundays in his youth when his extended family would all get together and have a big meal after church. He described those days as so fun and relaxing for him as a child. We gently pushed back a bit and asked who was preparing, serving, and cleaning up this “Sabbath” meal, because big meals are a lot of work. He responded that it was the women, of course, but that it “was still a Sabbath for them, because they got to relax after the clean-up was done.”

    Coincidentally, about a week later, my husband was discussing our Sabbath attempts with a female coworker who attends a church very similar to ours. She told him flatly that “The Sabbath is for men, not women.”

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      This is so true!

  7. Jane Eyre

    “If friends make you happy, but getting together with friends is a ton of work, then you miss out on a big opportunity to be happy.”

    Nah, Sheila, you’re missing the obvious solution: she quits her job so that she has more time to be a hostess! No need for men to chop vegetables – he earns money and frees her up for household tasks, kin keeping, all that good stuff.

    (This is not a knock on people who arrange their lives that way! It is a knock on those who force women into it by overwhelming them in other areas.)

  8. Lisa Johns

    I have a solution for women whose husbands won’t match their efforts in hosting gatherings: sit down and match the husband’s efforts! If pizza is delivered and served on paper plates, the guests will eat and they can dispose of their own dishes. This leaves the woman free to socialize with her friends at the same time her husband does. Maybe doing this, plus extending the concept of effort-matching to other areas of householding, might wake some men up to the tremendous amount of effort the women in their lives are expending on them.

    • Don't Judge

      Unfortunately, from what my eyes have been opened to (everything I’ve read on this site and Sheila’s books), the conservative, lazy bum, complementarian husband “man” might start abusing the wife if she starts making him unhappy 🙁

  9. Lisa Johns

    Very true, and my suggestion would work best only after a clear discussion of the issue with the offending husband. His response to the wife doing this would tell her a whole lot about how things are likely to go as they move forward!!


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