Marie Helweg-Larsen, Dickinson College – Hygge

As the gross national product rises, the rate of happiness in the U.S. is declining.

Marie Helweg-Larsen, professor of psychology at Dickinson College, examines why Danish people are so happy and how we can emulate them.

​​Professor Helweg-Larsen’s research is in the areas of social psychology, health psychology and cross-cultural psychology – specifically why smart people do dumb thing and how to make them stop. She is currently examining in the US and Denmark how smokers react to being stigmatized.




The new World Happiness Report again ranks Denmark among the top three happiest of 155

countries surveyed – a distinction that the country has earned for seven consecutive years.

The U.S., on the other hand, ranked 18th in this year’s World Happiness Report, a four-spot drop

from last year’s report.

Why might Danes evaluate their lives more positively?

Danes have a stable government, low levels of public corruption, and access to high-quality

education and health care. The country does have the highest taxes in the world, but the vast

majority of Danes happily pay: They believe higher taxes can create a better society.

Perhaps most importantly, however, they value a cultural construct called “hygge”.

The Oxford dictionary added the word in June 2017 and Amazons sells more than 900 books on hygge.

Hygge is sometimes translated as “cozy,” but a better definition of hygge is “intentional intimacy,” which can happen when you have safe, balanced and harmonious shared experiences. A cup of coffee with a friend in front of a fireplace might qualify, as could a family summer picnic in the park.

Research on hygge has found that in Denmark, it’s integral to people’s sense of well-being. It acts as a

buffer against stress, while also creating a space to build camaraderie. In a highly individualized

country like Denmark, hygge can promote egalitarianism and strengthen trust.

In the US the gross national product has been rising but level of happiness have been steadily declining. Why? Because income inequality continues to rise. And because of a decrease in interpersonal trust and trust toward institutions like the government as well as the media.

At its core, hygge is about building intimacy and trust with others. Americans could probably use a little more of it in their lives.

  1. Guven Peter Witteveen