Hygge and hap­pi­ness, the Dan­ish way

The Danes are supposed to be the happiest people in the world. I've been decoding their recipe for happiness for two months now and in this post, I'll tell you what I have observed - and what’s been increasing my own happiness in everyday life here.

Typical Danish breakfast: sourdough rolls, with cheese and jam.
My favourite Danish breakfast: sourdough rolls, with cheese and jam. Photo: private

I have been living in my new home, Copenhagen, for two months now. During this time, I have noticed that there is very little that upsets people here. Whether it's the wind and rain, crowded metros or long queues in the canteen - the Danes take it in their stride. I have a few ideas about why that might be.

Living by the water

The first point is the proximity to the water. Whether it's swimming in the harbour, a boat trip through the canals, water sports or walks on the beach – it’s all possible, year-round, in Copenhagen. I especially like the Islands Brygge harbour lido, where I have spent many sunny hours after class. The water in the harbour is very clean, so you don't have to worry about swimming there. To keep it that way, you can borrow a "green kayak" for free at several locations and use it to fish rubbish out of the water. I think it's a great way to explore Copenhagen from the water and help keep the harbour clean at the same time.

My campus, the South Campus, is also located on a small canal, which is perfect for lunch time picknicks when the weather is nice. And the sea is also just around the corner from the South Campus! It only takes me 20 minutes by bike to get to Amager Beach, where you have a beautiful view of the Baltic Sea as you go through your reading assignments - or just enjoy the holiday vibes.

Buildings along the water.
I have yet to see another city where water is used so well in so many different ways as in Copenhagen. Photo: private

Danish cuisine

They say that the way to a (wo)man's heart is through their stomach. And Danish happiness definitely consists, to a large extent, of hot drinks and sweet pastries. I quickly discovered that the Danes love their food and socialising. For example, the locals like to get together for breakfast. On my way to university, I often pass long queues in front of the bageri (bakery). The selection of bread there is huge and from sweet to savoury, there is something there for everyone.

Especially popular are the tebirkes, a Danish breakfast pastry that, like croissants, is made of puff pastry and sprinkled with poppy seeds. Personally, I could have surdejsbolle med ost, smør og syltetøj (sourdough rolls with cheese, butter and jam) every morning. And the absolute classic - smørrebrød (rye bread with various toppings) - is something everyone should try. In the cafeteria at South Campus, the smørrebrød only costs around 4 euros and is very tasty! The other South Campus cafés also offer everything your heart desires, from pastries to sandwiches and salads.

A cyclist’s paradise

The bicycle is the number one means of transport in Copenhagen. Half the city’s population commutes to work by bike every day. It’s a great way to get moving and burn all those cinnamon bun calories right away. There are cycle highways and bridges all over the city that make it easy to get around quickly.

On campus, too, there are huge bicycle car parks. To anyone who wants to study here, I would recommend to get a bike as soon as possible. At first, I had planned to bring my own from home, but am now fortunately allowed to use my landlady's. Especially among exchange students, a bicycle subscription is popular, such as Swap Fiets, which costs around 30 euros a month.

The "hygge" mentality

The final and probably most important ingredient for Danish-style happiness is "hygge". I already mentioned it in my last blog post: "Hygge" is a feeling of cosiness, comfort and intimate togetherness. People in Denmark place a lot of value on interpersonal relationships and community. This creates a basic trust in society, which I think is often lacking in Germany. For example, I was completely surprised when I realised that people here leave their prams and children in front of the bakery when they go shopping. Or that no one really locks up their bicycle because it’s so rare that anything gets stolen.

But I also have to say that, as an exchange student, it can be difficult to make Danish contacts and to immerse yourself in this community in the first place. What’s easy, on the other hand, is meeting international students. My flatmates, for example, are from England, Poland and India. For me, "hygge" is when we cook together in the evenings and then sit in the kitchen and talk about our day. So, we kind of do “international hygge”. "Hygge" is a cosy flat with warm candlelight. "Hygge" is coffee breaks at university when it's raining outside. And "hygge" is also the feeling of being at home.

(Published 16 October 2023)