Three years ago, the Danish phenomenon hygge became the must-chant mantra for the season of taking stock and self-care. The Scandi lifestyle, which encourages us all to swaddle up against the outside world, was adopted, and adapted, worldwide. Now, though, there’s a raft of rival rituals, co-opted from other cultures, that are jostling for its cozy, overstuffed throne—here’s a handy primer on each.
Spiritual home: Denmark’s windswept west coast, Jutland, from the island of Fanø to the oyster-crammed Wadden Sea.
In a nutshell: Intimate, cozy, and content. For example: Mugs should always be cradled in two hands, not grasped by the handle.
What to do: This concept became a global phenomenon after a series of studies found that the southernmost Scandinavian country had the happiest people in the world. Their contentment, adherents claim, is founded on an unwavering dedication to hygge: sharing a moment’s pause in everyday life with those you love—quality time during a home-cooked family supper, for instance. It can also be a moment of self-care: we recommend curling up in cashmere, with a book and some tea (caffeine-free, to keep the vibe mellow) in your own hyggekrog or cozy corner.
Conversation-starter: “Hand me the matches, will you?” Danes burn through the largest number of candles per capita in Europe—13 pounds per year, double the runner-up, Austria.
Fireside reading: The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well, by Meik Wiking
Spiritual home: Okinawa, Japan
In a nutshell: Think reason for living—or getting out of bed in the morning, at least. (The word combines iki, to live, with gai, reason.) Anyone oozing ikigai has found and embraced their mission in life.
What to do: This Eastern counterpart to raison d’être is the yin to hygge’s yang: It’s not about holing up, but reaching out, finding your destination rather than embracing where you are. Pick a subject to master, whether another language—we’d recommend Japanese, obviously—or perhaps a hobby like calligraphy or tai chi and embrace it wholeheartedly, drawing succor from the skill. Don’t limit yourself to one ikigai, either; this is self-care you can multitask.
Conversation-starter: “Retirement? What retirement?” There’s no exact translation for the idea into Japanese—older folks segue from a 9 to 5 lifestyle to full-time ikigai. It’s a smart choice: Okinawa is one of the world’s Blue Zones, where centenarians are commonplace.
Fireside reading: Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, by Hector Garcia
Spiritual home: The Netherlands
In a nutshell Hygge with attitude and alcohol—totally twee-free.
What to do: Gezelligheid is another untranslatable idea, best thought of as ‘vibing.’ There’s a sense of connection and relaxation, but also of celebration. Bunches of flowers festooning a room encourage those within it to feel gezellig, as does a pot-luck dinner or a bike ride with your closest crew. Knock back a shot or two of genever to warm you from the inside, or browse a street market to buy something locally made. Definitely un-gezellig? Marie Kondo–like tidiness—this is a concept for clutter-lovers.
Conversation starter: “That’s so lekker.” The Dutch word technically means luscious but is more a catch-all for anything convivial and appealing, twin pillars of gezelligheid.
Fireside reading: Bookmark Finding Dutchland, the insightful blog about life in Holland by two expat women.
Cosagach (aka Coorie)
Spiritual home: The wilds of Scotland, especially the islands.
In a nutshell: Call it MacHygge: to be emotionally in sync with your surroundings, or derive contentment from your context.
What to do: Pour out a dram or two, and snuggle down on the sofa, under a cashmere blanket—Johnston’s of Elgin is recommended—while the rain lashes the windowpanes. Light up a campfire and build a homemade smoker from an old metal tin; slowly infuse that wild-caught salmon from the loch nearby with a woody, Scottish flavor as you cook it. Learn to knit a Fair Isle sweater or just pick one up from Mati Ventrillon, the expat French designer who now lives on Shetland proper.
Conversation-starter: “I don’t understand why Gaelic isn’t compulsory in schools anymore, do you?” (By the way, it’s pronounced KAW-sa-goch, as in loch.)
Fireside reading: The Art of Coorie, by Gabriella Bennett
Spiritual home: Stockholm and beyond
In a nutshell: The Goldilocks zone: everything in moderation, so it feels just right.
What to do: Balance is key to achieving peak lagom, whether it’s in work-life or when eating just enough to feel full and no more. More concerned with satisfaction than coziness, it’s self-denial as self-care. The moderation mantra manifests in everything from IKEA’s minimalist, functional design (it even carried a Live Lagom collection for a while) to the matter-of-factness of Swedish death cleaning. Have a regular fika with friends—that daily pause for a coffee that punctuates Swedish schedules—and you’ll easily achieve lagom.
Conversation-starter: “Pass the mead, please.” One origin story for the idea dates it back to Viking-era campfire settlements, where warriors would pass a horn full of mead around while never guzzling more than their share.
Fireside reading Lagom magazine, published in the U.K. but shot through with Swedishness.
Spiritual home: Athens, Thessaloniki or anywhere in between
In a nutshell: Pride in your work. Shoulders back, head held high, meraki oozes quiet confidence.
What to do: Amazon’s primed us for this Greek concept, nabbing the word as a name for one of its in-house fashion lines. There’s craftsmanship to meraki—the idea that labor can give us pleasure, even pride, and a sense that no detail is too small to overlook. Add meraki to any activity, and you’ll be happier doing it, from making your own feta cheese instead of opting for store-bought or spiffing up the house (they might sweep the porch rather than shovel snow on Santorini & co, but the effort’s much the same).
Conversation-starter: “Doesn’t that sound rather Turkish?” The word entered Greek from the nearby language, where it means ‘to care or worry.’ The Greeks translated it to ‘proud.’
Fireside reading: Skip the reading and slather yourself in the organic, all-natural lotions from Meraki (motto: Soul, Creativity & Love), which were developed—where else?—but in hygge-soaked Denmark.