The last year has been all about hygge — a Scandinavian ideal that encompasses living in the moment and taking time to enjoy all things warm and cozy. It quickly turned into a major design trend here in the States, prompting people to light candles, rearrange furniture to encourage conversation and pop a batch of cookies in the oven.
When I started reading about hygge last winter, it immediately reminded me of “gezellig,” or “gezelligheid.” I learned this term during a semester abroad in Holland, and like hygge, there’s no direct English translation. It encompasses anything that’s quaint and cozy, and is more about how something makes you feel — like the joy and belonging that comes from reuniting with an old friend or seeing a loved one for the first time in a while.
Gezelligheid is an abstract notion and encompasses many of the key parts of Dutch culture. The word derives from gezel, which means “companion” or “friend,” and gezelligheid, which literally means "coziness" and is all about positive atmosphere and good energy. A room, person or party can all be gezellig, meaning anything from "fun" to "cozy" to "inviting."
Michele Hutchison of Finding Dutchland writes, “Gezelligheid is claiming a section of the park by stringing bunting in the trees and having a barbecue or picnic on the rug. A bustling street market is always gezellig. Gezellig shouldn’t be expensive or pretentious. It’s hygge but without the fairy magic.”
The New Yorker’s Glossary of Happiness lists gezellig along with hygge, koselig (Norwegian) and mysa (Swedish) as Northern European words for existential coziness. Tim Lomas suggests that these words are related not just to culture, but to geography and climate — these are countries that would value “the sense of being warm and secure and cozy inside.”
Whether you’re getting ready for a cold winter or just want to step up the cozy factor in your home, gezellig is really all about embracing the little things. Here are seven ways to bring a dose of this indefinable Dutch quality into your life.
1. Order your coffee “to stay.” Instead of rushing out of the coffee shop on a busy morning, take a seat, sip a cappuccino, indulge in a pastry and do a little bit of people-watching.
2. Flowers. Holland is known for fields of tulips, but any type of flowers can make your home more gezellig.
3. Skip the store-bought version. Nothing says “cozy” quite like a toasty kitchen with the smell of something delicious baking. Instead of picking up supermarket cookies or brownies, make a batch of your own and take pride in something homemade.
4. Don’t pick up after your children. A Dutch website says that since your kids won’t put away their toys without a bribe anyway, you might as well leave them scattered across the floor. Not a decorating tip, per se, but we’ll take any excuse to cut back on cleanup time.
5. Host a casual dinner party. Ask your friends to pitch in with meal preparation or to each bring a different course, potluck-style. This will cut back on your stress as a host, and you’ll be able to relax and enjoy yourself.
6. Walk (or bike!) to work. The Dutch are famous for bicycling everywhere, and what better way to enjoy a crisp fall day than spending a little extra time outdoors? Weather and distance permitting, skip the train or traffic-filled commute and get some exercise — and a breath of fresh air.
7. Update your artwork. Frame your child’s best pieces or update old family photos that you already have hanging on your walls. Personal touches around your home are just about as gezellig as it gets.