Whenever I asked my grandmother what “gezellig” meant, she never gave me a precise word or definition. “It’s like the feeling you have when the lights are low and your family is all together sitting beside a twinkling Christmas tree,” she would say. “Gezellig is how you feel when you could sit and talk for hours over a strong cup of coffee.”
Gezellig, pronounced heh-sell-ick, is yet another cultural philosophy, similar to the Danish hygge or the Swedish lagom, that possesses a certain degree of untranslatability and is the heart and soul of Dutch culture.
Health and sport psychologist Shilagh Mirgain best describes it as “the simplicity of the every day moment, of slowing down and creating a feeling of intimacy with the simple pleasures of life. It’s about establishing a meaningful, mindful connection with the world, ourselves and others.”
Although gezelligheid possesses many similar characteristics to the ever-popular hygge (think warm, fuzzy socks and a roaring fire), it’s distinct in that it can apply to almost every situation. While hygge is most often associated with minimalism, colder weather, and warm blankets, something can be gezellig no matter the season, atmosphere, or temperature. To be gezellig, something need only be relaxing and fulfilling.
How To Embrace A Gezellig Lifestyle
Incorporate Play In Your Life
In the Netherlands, it’s not uncommon to find the Dutch taking time out of their schedule to ride a bike, paddle a boat, or play a game of cards. Though the Dutch are perceived as hard and diligent workers, they also know the value of rest and relaxation through the lens of gezellig living.
How My Grandma Did It: Even at 85, my grandma still loved to play. She would constantly play pranks on other members in her retirement home, ride motorcycles, and go on crazy road trips—for no other reason than because those activities made her happy. She saw the joy and whimsy in life, and chose to see every single day as a blessing rather than a chore.
How You Can Do It: No matter how busy you are, make sure you’re carving out time to play. The act of playing, whether it’s board games, painting, or writing, is so important to human creativity and relaxation. Make the act of play even more gezellig by inviting a group of friends to do that activity with you.
Cook Meals Together
Nothing says gezelligheid quite like good company and good food. Cooking meals together fosters a relaxed environment to better connect with your loved ones.
How My Grandma Did It: My grandmother loved to pass down heirloom recipes. With aprons wrapped around our waists, she would teach us how to cook traditional Dutch recipes like Dutch pancakes, honey cake, krakelingen (figure eight cookies), and other decadent treats.
How You Can Do It: Pick a recipe (or recipes) that you’ve been meaning to try, and invite a friend over to cook with you. Better yet, host a cooking party and fill your kitchen with the delicious smells of homemade pizza, pasta, or whatever your heart desires!
Set Mood Lighting
There’s a special sort of relaxation that comes from quality mood lighting. In Dutch, they have a verb, “schemeren,” which means to sit contentedly in the twilight. Since gezelligheid is all about contentment and relaxation, anything that allows for “schemeren” is a good way to inspire gezelligheid.
How My Grandma Did It: In the evenings, my grandmother would dim the lights in the living room. There, we would sit, tell stories, and make shadow puppets with flashlights against the blank wall. Although we didn’t have toys in front of us, that lighting kept us entertained for hours until we went to bed.
How You Can Do It: The next time you eat dinner or read a book, turn off your lamps and light up a few candles instead. The scent and warm glow are sure to create a cozy atmosphere that will help you relax and feel calmer.
Cover Your Clock
“Gezelligheid kent geen tijd” is a Dutch phrase that means “coziness knows no time.” Rather than scheduling things back-to-back, the Dutch believe in letting the conversation and party flow for as long as it feels natural, whether that’s thirty minutes or three hours.
How My Grandma Did It: A favorite tradition of mine as a kid was morning coffee with my grandmother. After picking out my favorite china teacup and a fancy spoon, she would pour me a cup of coffee and we would sit for hours upon hours until the entire pot was gone.
How You Can Do It: The next time you invite someone out for coffee or drinks, try to be intentional and present. Staying present is an important mindfulness technique for finding greater fulfillment in your everyday life as well as a way to further make your life a bit more gezellig.
Host A Party
Since gezelligheid is all about convivial living, parties are a perfect outlet for surrounding yourself with your loved ones. Whether the gathering is small or large, parties take the focus off everyday life so you can spend quality time with people instead.
How My Grandma Did It: The queen of parties, my grandmother knew how to host quite the rager. Her secret for the perfect party ambiance included ample alcohol, ambient lighting, smooth music, and the mouthwatering scent of bread baking in the oven.
How You Can Do It: Find an obscure holiday like National Cupcake Day or National Plant a Tree Day and throw a themed-shindig. If you prefer a more productive gathering, consider hosting a clothing swap, a lettering writing party, or whatever you think you and your friends would enjoy the most.
Focus On Togetherness Over Perfection
In my opinion, this is the pinnacle of gezelligheid. When comparing hygge and gezellig, Finding Dutchland described gezellig as “hygge without the fairy dust.” You don’t need to have a perfectly cleaned house or an elegant charcuterie—as long as you’re together and at peace, you’re in a state of gezelligheid.
How My Grandma Did It: While my grandmother knew how to organize a house and throw a party, she never let the imperfections stress her out. The bread could be burned and the house could be on fire, but as long as we were together, that was all that mattered.
How You Can Do It: Dwell less, do more. Do the things that make you happy with the people that you love, rather than spending time wishing you could do it. Reach out to the friend you haven’t talked to in awhile, go to that restaurant you’ve been dying to try, and live life without clinging to perfection.
With such a carefree mindset and lifestyle, it’s no wonder the Netherlands is ranked as one of the top five happiest countries in the world. To live gezellig is to live freely and fully. Embrace convivial and comfortable living by practicing the Dutch philosophy of gezellig, of worrying less and playing more, today.
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Photo: Isabella Zuskova via Unsplash; Dana Drosdick