Do you live and love the American cozy life? I do and I’ll let you in on a secret. I think it’s way better than the Danish hygge that everyone is talking about.
I recently read a short anecdote written by an American man with an extensive English heritage. He expected to eventually move to England and make his home there because he felt so drawn to it. He had the opportunity to spend several months in England and while there was stunned to discover that while his ancestry might be English, he was fully American. (This point was especially driven home on Thanksgiving when none of the people around him even knew what Thanksgiving was. They thought it was another name for Christmas.) Until that point he hadn’t realized the depth of his Amercian-ness and how different it was from being English. He also realized that he was completely an outsider from the perspective of the citizens of the very old city where he was located.
Furthermore, this man discovered that he was deeply grateful to be American. He realized the rich heritage multiple generations of his family had built in America and how much that mattered to him when he was separated from it and placed in a country that was not and never could be his home.
Lately I have been pondering what it means to be an American and how we do things here. Although I trace much of my ancestry back to Sweden, England, Germany, and the Netherlands, I am not Swedish, English, German, or Dutch. To be sure, each of those cultures has impacted my life in some way.
For example, I grew up in a Swedish Baptist denomination and I still feel the impact of that to this day. My father’s family was heavily Dutch Reformed and there are parts of it that I have embraced at times. I have always felt intensely drawn to England and Scotland and assume it must be something in my DNA.
But I am thoroughly and gratefully an American.
Hygge is Danish, Not American
A few years ago, I wrote a post about hygge. I had no idea at the time I was on the cutting edge of writing about the topic. I simply saw the topic pop up online, it fit well with topics I think about (such as simple living and cozy living), and I wrote a post about it. Since then there has been an explosion of books about everything hygge. It has turned into a huge commercial enterprise as you can see here, here, and here.
But hygge is not an American concept and, try as we might to adopt its use here, we will never fully understand it because we’re not Danish. Surveys may announce that Danish people are some of the happiest people in the world, but the reasons for those results are significantly more complex than most Americans realize. There is far more to the Danish mindset than having a national understanding called hygge that helps them deal with the gray winters of the north.
Much of what contributes to their perceived high levels of happiness cannot be replicated elsewhere, especially the overwhelmingly homogeneous ethnic make-up of their country and the incredibly tight-knit social networks that develop from their early schooling and continue on into adulthood. There is absolutely nothing wrong with their strong ethnic identity or strong social networks, but that uniformity cannot possibly be replicated here in America.
But we don’t need to worry about trying to understand hygge or replicate it here. We already have something very similar in America.
Does it have a national name like hygge?
But I think many of us instinctively do our America-inspired cozy life already, especially those of us who live in the four season parts of the United States. We do it quietly and without commercial fanfare, but it happens just the same. It isn’t something we saw in the newspaper or online and added to our life. It is how we are naturally wired to approach our life.
Sometimes we call it nesting. Sometimes we call it feathering our nest. Making a home. But whatever it is, it is American cozy living and I think if we dig deep it is in part an outgrowth of two things – the pioneer spirit and the thriftiness of the Great Depression.
What is the American Cozy Life?
The cozy life or cozy living is what I call the coming together of purposeful living, simple living, and faithful living.
Purposeful Living – We make purposeful choices rather than going with the flow, even if it means being different from the crowd.
Simple Living – We include only those things in our life that bring real value.
Faithful Living – We make choices that align with our faith and core beliefs.
Cozy living is living simply and purposefully according to our deeply held beliefs.
The Cozy Life is a Mindset
Cozy living in America is a mindset. It is a way of approaching how you use your space, your time, and your energy. When I wrote about hygge a few years ago, I said this:
Whenever I hear people complain about the cloudiness or the crummy weather, I reply with something like, “It’s not crummy weather! It’s cozy weather!” Just thinking about the gray outside in a different way changes your mindset.
Cloudiness outside means the fire burns a bit more brightly, the lamps glow a bit more, and home is more of a peaceful refuge from the darkness. It’s a mindset to be cultivated.
Cozy living is about looking at what you have, being grateful, and sharing it with others.
It is looking realistically at the world around us and choosing to make the best of our little sanctuary.
It is knowing that no matter how gloomy or discouraging circumstances might be outside our home, we have the choice to bring joy, peace, and faith to our little corner of the world.
Cozy living is contentment.
Cozy Living is about Relationships
People who embrace American cozy living tend to be people who are caring. They value relationships. Cozy living isn’t about being a hermit (although it can be a perfect fit for people who are especially introverted!).
American cozy life people are hospitable. They might be introverts who only invite a few people over at a time for coffee and conversation around the fire. Or they might be people who throw open their home for games and snacks to anyone who wants to come over after the evening church service.
They believe in relationships and see their cozy home and life as a way to build and nurture them.
Cozy Living is Realistic Luxury
My home is not filled with what would be called luxurious items. But my cozy home is filled with the things that make life feel luxurious to me.
Bookcases filled with beloved titles, a fireplace, a beadboard kitchen backsplash, a pretty countertop (that is not granite), a cozy chair and blanket by the fire.
Cross stitch samplers on the wall, a piano with a hymnal, a chiming clock.
Candles in the windows.
These are the luxurious items that fill my home.
The books are old favorites, the fireplace is my happy place. The beadboard backsplash makes me happy and I had no interest in granite countertops when we replaced the old ones. I wanted a pretty, feminine laminate that was cozy and comfortable.
The cozy chair and blanket by the fireplace are both probably at least thirteen years old.
But it all feels luxurious to me because it brings me joy and peace. And that is what matters.
Again, no one is going to come into our home and be impressed with what we own. But ever since we have been married, people have always commented on how warm and cozy our home is whether we were in our first apartment together, the 1928 Craftsman house on a tiny city lot we renovated, or our current colonial. Our home has always been a welcoming, cozy place.
Cozy may be a code word for small in real estate listings, but when someone calls my home cozy I take it as the highest compliment.
Cozy Living Embraces the Home Base
Cozy living is for those who fully embrace the joy and importance of home. When our home is cozy, it is filled with the things and people that matter the most to us and enrich our lives. We don’t need to run out and search for purpose outside of our home. It is already there. We may invite people into our home to share in our coziness (and should!), but cozy living is satisfied with the blessings of hearth and home.
There is joy and peace to be found there.
People may enjoy the coziness of home so much they choose to spend all their time there. They may work from home, they may homeschool, or they may operate a small home-based business of some kind. For people who are happiest amongst the coziness of home, being there all the time allows them to bring their purpose and faith together in one place with the people they love.
Cozy Living is Good Food
Cozy living means eating good food.
It doesn’t have to be fancy food. But it is good food that nourishes our bodies and brains. It is health-giving food that gives us the physical, mental, and emotional stamina to make the most of the physical and spiritual gifts we have been given.
Because of the commitment to eating good food, the kitchen is often the center of the cozy home. Whether it is preparing meals or simply spending time together around a meal, food tends to be important to people who embrace the American cozy life.
Cozy Living is Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do, Do Without
I said that I think American cozy living is partially an outgrowth of the pioneer spirit and the thriftiness of the Great Depression. We can especially see it with this saying that many cozy people live by:
Use it up, wear it out, make it do, and do without.
It’s easy to forget how much of an impact those events have had on us as Americans, especially those of us with a long family heritage that encompasses those timeframes. One branch of my family was among the early settlers in Michigan. I remember hearing stories about the Great Depression from my grandparents and my husband’s grandparents. Those experiences have shaped families and continue to do so. We don’t even realize how much a part of our thinking it is (until we go somewhere completely different like the American who went to England).
Cozy living is about making the most of what you have. It isn’t about chasing the newest and the best. Back during the economic downturn of 2008, experts identified a tendency called dwelling. At that time it was seen as a phase that would swing back the other way toward surging. But for people who embrace the American cozy life, dwelling is how we live all the time. Our cozy living is not dictated by the stock market or the economic climate. We make the same choices to fill our life with coziness no matter what is going on in the world around us.
So let the Danish folks enjoy their hygge. We don’t need to chase it. We already have something beautiful here in America – our cozy life.
A Quiet Simple Life Planner & Guidebook
If you enjoy beautiful printables and inspiration, be sure to check out A Quiet Simple Life Planner & Guidebook. This core resource for my site includes hundreds of pages to help you create a cozy and beautiful life for you and your loved one.
American cozy loving is good for our kids; keeps them safer in the tighter knit safety of the home, and rejects them growing up too quickly!
I think cozy living has many benefits for children – slower pace of life, closer family relationships, more rest, etc. And, yes, to the not growing up too quickly!
I think children raised in a cozy home have more opportunities to understand themselves, their strengths, their weaknesses, etc. It takes time for reflection and trial/error to learn those things. It’s much easier if they aren’t spending their time in a stressful environment and pace of life.
Yes! Great piece.
You have described the life of my family so well; we definitely share some overlapping cultural ancestry. 🙂 This cozy life is lived by most of my & my husband’s extended family as well. And I too am drawn to England, and did love my working vacation helping one daughter last May- except I was missing my husband & rest of our family. My heritage is English; we are descendants of Mayflower family – Edward Fuller. My husband’s ancestors include a founder of Yale, and several cousins w/mental issues including: Aaron Burr, and fiery preacher Jonathan Edwards. Depression era and the, war years also affected each of our grandparents, more so my mom& her 11 siblings, so the “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” philosophy was ingrained in my childhood, though I didn’t hear the actual phrase until AG Molly books w/my girls.
That’s an amazing family history you can trace in America. I think there are many, many families who live a cozy life and have always lived a cozy life. It just not something that gets hyped. We simply quietly live our lives and love the people around us.
Yes! ‘Cozy’ is one of my favorite words! 🙂 I am not American, but I totally feel like an American at heart in every way you have described: the joy of making your home a warm, safe place, full of things that have dear memories attached to them, transforming and repurposing things, making do with what you have, loving Thanksgiving… That’s why I love to paint about how love makes a house a home. I long for that feeling of warmth and coziness to come through in what I paint! It’s definitely one of my favorite subjects… Oh, and I love the old American movies that portray such a life – series like ‘The Waltons’.
We’re very happy to welcome you as an honorary American, especially if you are a fellow cozy living person!
I sure am! 😀
You had me at a piano with a hymnal on it.
I love my cozy home. It will never be featured in any magazine or in any decorating blog but with all the antiques and handmade things in each room, the shelves with frequently read book, and yes, the piano with the hymnal – it is the coziest place I know.
It sounds like you definitely do cozy well!
Cozy Living is Good Food
Cozy living means eating good food.
As I was standing at the kitchen sink tonight peeling potatoes and chopping carrots, onions and celery for our beef stew, I thought how much I LOVE winter food. I thought that I love it so much that it can’t compare to hot dogs, hamburgers and salads.
My family feels the same. My husband comes in from work on winter nights and takes a big sniff of appreciation. I never hear that in the summer.
I completely agree! I love the foods of winter – stews, soups, etc. So yummy and… cozy!
This is one of the BEST blog posts I’ve read anywhere! It made me feel cozy, just reading it!
Long ago, I used to follow your blog. When it was a blog. But then it changed. Now that you’re posting “blogs” again, I hope to be back!
It’s nice to reconnect with you again. Thank you for the kind words about the post. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I loved writing it and am happy to be writing posts like this again.
Yes, my blog/website has undergone many changes over the years as I’ve navigated motherhood, my health issues, sorting out my child’s educational needs, working on the business aspect of it to assist in our financial needs, etc. This site is part of what provides financially for our family and that won’t change. But my goal is to find the balance between having a cozy space where I can connect with people and help people and also keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. 🙂
I love this, have always believed in cozy and in the back of my mind always aiming to achieve it. I totally relate to it. It is a wonderful nurturing way for all in some respect. My husband, I believe did not have such a life that included much of this, but he has become accustomed to the little things I always do that achieve this hygge atmosphere, especially now that he is retired. We love candles real and faux, even in the morning hours! And he notices if an element of coziness is missing at times. I love the encouragement in this article to keep on doing it.
I think some people are naturally wired for coziness. Even thinking back to when I was a child and young person, I can see that I longed for that.
Thank you for your kind words!
I just LOVE this article.. well written and reminds me of my own childhood, and what my husband and I have strived for in our own home. We intentionally do things in order to foster the coziness of hospitality, and a place our children love to come home to. A place that the heart longs to be! Keep up the writing! We need more of this!
I’m so pleased you enjoyed this post! There are lots more like this to come. 🙂
I used to read your original blog also and this post popped up when I was googling something related to Hygge. Funny how it’s become such a trend. I definitely think you hit on a good point, that emulating the traditions of another culture doesn’t always make sense when you have plenty of good traditions in your own. Sometimes I go on Pinterest looking at Hygge ideas and realize that what I’m actually doing is lusting after a certain house, lifestyle, etc. And I think it breeds discontentment, when really it’s meant to be more frugal and make use of found objects, crafts that one would be doing anyway, etc. And we do have our own American version of those. I’m drawn to Hygge personally because 1) I live in a northern climate, so the dark winter days are something I’m familiar with, 2) I live in an apartment, so the “squeezing around a small table” is certainly applicable. However, I also live in an urban environment, and I wonder if it’s realistic to be bringing in various elements of nature, or is that too contrived? So yes, we have to be careful not to try too hard to manufacture an environment. I have English roots as well so I identified well with your example. As an American I have tried to put on English tea parties and that sort of thing, but we do quite well with our American get-togethers. I also have read a lot about minimalism and it doesn’t appeal to me at all-simplicity, maybe-a monochromatic house with no clutter, nope. So I like that aspect of Hygge with peaceful yet lived-in scenes. But the Danish don’t have a patent on that. As to Thanksgiving, bit of a faux pas, perhaps, mentioning it to the British? 😉 I live abroad as well and obviously the American Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated over in Europe-but a harvest celebration is often welcomed.
It’s nice to “see” you again. I think I remember you from way back. I enjoyed clicking over to your blog and seeing what you are doing in your life now. It’s funny how life circles back around, isn’t it?
I appreciated your thoughts about hygge, simplicity, home, contentment, etc. Thank you!
Sounds pretty much like my wife and I have been living the last 20 plus yrs. in northern Quebec except without a name for it. the one thing that we emphasis along with family, good food and drink, simplicity of life, etc. is Faith. We say grace with the children, they say their prayers and we attend church when it is possible…(we’re fairly isolated). Being Christian is part of our heritage and a major part of our life that we also give thanks for. We really don’t believe a home can be happy or fulfilled without God being with us and us with him.
Thank you for your comment and welcome! I completely agree that faith is a key component of our happy family life as well.
Have you lost all your snow? I think I saw on the weather yesterday that there was still snow coming down in parts of Quebec. I’m in West Michigan so our snow has been gone for a bit, but will be back before you know it!
Yes the snow has (finally) melted but we had a snow squall two days ago. Fortunately it didn’t stay. Seems like the cold wet spring will turn into a cold wet summer…Tom
Sallie, you have described my family. My sisters and I enjoy the simple things in life. We love to read. Our bookshelves are overflowing with our favorites. We like nothing better than spending a day or night relaxing and enjoying each other’s company. We tend to stay home most of the time. We do have company on several special occasions. Just reading this post makes us feel all cozy inside. Thank You Sallie for this lovely and inspiring post. God Bless.
Cozy, this seems to be the north American version of the Danish hygge. A way of life. This is the life my wife and kids have been leading for over 20 years. To connect with the life style rather than the fad is nice.
Hygge might be the new catch phrase, but I’ve been living cozy for many years! I even have the piano with the hymnal on it 🙂
I read a very short book about hygge, and was unimpressed. I couldn’t see much difference between hygge and how we normally live. I agree with your definition of cozy. My favorite word for cozy rooms is an old fashioned one…a snuggery. I enjoyed this article very much!
Hi Again, been a couple of cozy years up north here in northern Quebec. Still praying and indulging the good and simple life. Hope all is well and you are all thriving.