So Hygge! Why Danish People Have Happier Marriages Than Americans
The Danes know a thing or two about being happy. They also know a thing or two about being happily married.
Denmark is most often named the happiest country in the world by the kinds of studies and stories that rank such things. They came in first in the United Nation’s World Happiness Report in 2013, 2014 and 2016.
This happiness and contentment is due in large part to the Danish commitment to the idea of higgle — a word unpronounceable by the American tongue that vaguely sounds like whoo-gah and involves an enthusiastic clearing of one’s throat. It means a commitment to kindness, coziness, happiness and overall contentment with life. It’s about good living, happy living and living with really well-designed chairs. At its core, hygge is about consciously creating a pleasant life and when it extends to marriage, about consciously creating a more content and satisfied partnership.
“The phenomenon is difficult to explain to others. It has a special invisible energy, which is rooted in something in between you and the other – some kind of contact and the desire to be together, like a state of mind where you feel connected, filled with proximity and shared values transformed into a ‘we’,” Iben Sandahl, the renowned family therapist and author of the book The Danish Way of Parenting, told me when I interviewed her for How to be Married.
Here are just a few of the reasons Danes might be more satisfied with their marriages than Americans.
- They value a cozy home. the Danish, due to the fact that the country is enveloped in cold and darkness for the majority of the year, are a people who are particularly focused on creating a cozy and happy home. “In Denmark, we are very much indoors – I guess mostly because of our changeable weather. Therefore creating a cozy home, which is personal and relaxing, means a lot to us in relation to feeling good. I would argue that many of us are trying to create the ‘invisible’ cozy spirit that characterizes hygge in our homes, because we need that place to relax,” Sandahl said. “If you enter into a cozy home, you enter at the same time into a good and lovely energy that makes you happy. If you are happy when you come home from work, it rubs off positively on your spouse.”
- They leave the drama at the door. The Danes I spoke with told me they tried their best to keep complaining to a minimum and attempted to focus on the positive in conversations with their significant other. That didn’t mean they never fought. They’re not cyborgs. Just the opposite. They tried to quarrel with intention when it was necessary and attempted to keep that drama out of the rest of their lives. “If you want to hygge more with your partner, it means that you have to put the drama of everyday life to one side for a moment. It is sometimes difficult, but when deciding that no negative issues should loom so much, it becomes easier to be present and kinder towards your partner,” Sandahl said.
- They don’t go into debt for their weddings. Weddings in Denmark tend to be low-key affairs that take place at the town hall. Danes marry on the later side, 35 for men and 32 for women, which often means that they have sufficiently invested in their own lives and that they are more likely to be financially secure going into a marriage.
- They’re intentional about the time they spend together. How often do you see couples sitting at dinner and hardly talking to one another or out on the town walking in completely separate bubbles? When the Danes earmark time to be together they make sure to truly be together, putting away their phones and other distractions in order to concentrate fully on the other person.
- Couples enjoy the small things together. “It’s about taking pleasure in gentle and soothing things. Dinner with close friends is hygge. Large family dinners are hygge. It just plays into every aspect of Danish life. It’s about being kind to yourself and those close to you and that makes you a better partner,” explained Helen Russell Brooks, the author of The Year of Living Danishly. ““It can be anything, really. It’s about finding the happiness in small things.For me, hygge is about being nicer to myself and I’ll be nicer to the people around me. You find yourself being less spikey to your partner,”
- They create their own traditions. “A couple can grow strong together if they are working to implement some traditions together, where hygge can be included,” Sandahl said. “Shared values can be transformed into powerful routines that can easily be maintained when children and family knock on the door.”
- Their divorces are less nasty. You’re probably wondering why I included divorce in a post about marriage. Let’s be honest, the way you end a marriage ends just as much as how you behave while you’re in one and it can have just as lasting an impact. Denmark has the fourth highest divorce rate in Europe, 42.7% which is about the same as the United States, but divorces are almost as low-key as the weddings. Divorces are cheap (under $100) and relatively painless. You can even file for them online. Danes explained to me that because female employment is so high and the social safety net is so strong, a Danish divorce is less likely to become a nasty battle over money, which can make the entire process much less filled with hate. Because divorces don’t tend to be acrimonious, there isn’t as huge a stigma attached to them as we have in the U.S. and most Danes who do get divorced tend to get married again and stay friends with their ex-wife or ex-husband. Some of them even celebrate their “divorce-aversary” together over beers and a well-cooked meal of arctic char and elk with their new partners.
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