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5 ways gemütlichkeit could help us find more unhurried happiness in our lives.

It's time to take this cozy, unhurried social acceptance vibe seriously.

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Sometimes you can learn a lot from a word whose meaning you can never truly know. Gemütlichkeit is one such word.

Why does a word matter so much? Well, this is one of those words that encompasses the perfect mix of feelings we all want — and need — to experience. (More on that in a minute.)


I first heard of gemütlichkeit when I was visiting a friend in Austria. It's pronounced in the neighborhood of "geh-mioot-lee-kite" — and you can listen to a native speaker pronounce it if you really wanna get serious.

It's kind of undefinable.

Merriam-Webster describes it as "friendliness and cordiality."

But it's more than that.

German blogger Constanze describes it: "A soft chair in a coffee shop might be considered 'cosy'. But sit in that chair surrounded by close friends and a hot cup of tea, while soft music plays in the background, and that sort of scene is what you'd call gemütlich."

My favorite attempt at a definition is one floating online from definitions.net:

While I was visiting my pal in Austria, I had her point out each time gemütlichkeit was happening.

I realized, I've been feeling gemütlichkeit my whole life, but I'd been taking it for granted. Because ... no word!


Me (on the right) having a VERY gemütlichkeit moment on the banks of the Mississippi River at a Blues Festival. Gemütlichkeit is all around us!

Gemütlichkeit is a very specific vibe. Like the difference between a house and a home, like drinking cider and singing songs with friends around a fireplace while it snows, like a chill beer garden on a sunny afternoon.

"... a situation that induces a cheerful mood, peace of mind, with connotation of belonging and social acceptance, coziness and unhurry. "

Now I had the word, gemütlichkeit, and with it, great power ... to take cozy, unhurried social acceptance seriously.

Here are five ways you can, too!

There are real, valid, and applicable reasons that it's so awesome to discover gemütlichkeit in your life (and not just because it's a fun word).

1. Social isolation is a real thing.

Loneliness is real. And it's a bummer! Gemütlichkeit is about cultivating environments where people can get closer to each other, in person! With modern life and modern technology bringing us further and further from each other in real life...

Social isolation cat needs a pet. And some human contact! Image by Justin Dolske/Flickr.

...being kinda intentional about in-person closeness and social acceptance is a good thing.

And, according to Sherry Turkel, author of "Alone Together," a book about technology, modern life, and isolation, "We use conversations with each other to learn how to have conversations with ourselves."

So by being in a place of social acceptance and cozy, cozy friendship, we're actually building skills to be better to ourselves. Neat, huh?

2. By naming this vibe, we can cultivate it!

This is perhaps the most simple, but the most profound. Not all who wander are lost, but it helps to know the name of what you're looking for if you're looking for it.

Gemütlichkeit doesn't just happen — you can make it happen!

Does a body (and soul) good. Image by jeffreyw/Flickr.

It's like when you finally figure out the best ingredients for a certain soup. Yeah, you could probably make the soup again without knowing that and if you kinda tried, but knowing and naming those ingredients means you're owning it! You can recreate the soup!

3. Instead of singing about "The Bare Necessities" in the German translation of "The Jungle Book," Baloo the bear sang about gemütlichkeit.

Here's a quick review of the bare necessities, aka mother natures recipes ... i.e., Baloo the bear knew about gemütlichkeit all along!

Disney. You are deep!

I'm not going to go into an academic comparison of the two languages as it pertains to "The Jungle Book" song lyrics. But I am going to think it's cool how much "The Bare Necessities" actually captures the cozy, neighborly, humanness of a hug vibe that IS gemütlichkeit.

A gemütliHUG from Baloo and Mowgli. <3 GIF from Disney's "The Jungle Book."

4. You can't get gemütlichkeit in a drive-thru or a quick checkout line.

One of the things I like most about the concept of gemütlichkeit is its emphasis on being unhurried. According to a Pew Research study in 2006, nearly a quarter of Americans feel rushed. Not a good feeling.

There's no such thing as hurried, drive-thru gemütlichkeit.


Image by Taber Andrew Bain/Flickr (altered).

You can't get it in a hurry.

You can get it after an unhurried marathon hangout sesh with your best buds for hours, though. Maybe you also sing the gemütlichkeit drinking song. Maybe you don't.

GIF via Silvia Albert/YouTube

But you can't rush gemütlichkeit. Does this mean that a quarter of Americans don't get to feel the cozy, unhurried social acceptance that is gemütlichkeit? Maybe.

Maybe they like feeling rushed and that they don't have enough time in the day. But on the off-chance that they don't, it's nice to know that the everyday, rushed person can seek to cultivate some more gemütlichkeit in their lives and maybe feel a little better.

5. Other countries also have a word for it! (So it must be good.)

Hygge is basically Danish gemütlichkeit, and gemytlig in Swedish has a similar meaning as well.

This is the first thing that came up when I searched for gemytlig. Cosy, friendship, drinks, unhurried, chill vibes. Looks about right. Image by Patrik Neckman/Flickr.

There's even an Ikea moose named gemytlig. And a city in Wisconsin has a three-day festival each year called Gemütlichkeit Days to celebrate German culture.

Cool word, huh?

It's not easy to be a modern person — there are so many things that separate us ... both exciting things (opportunity! random hot air balloons!) and obnoxious things (emails! people who take three hours to text you back!).

I'm sharing this little tale of a meaningful, untranslatable word in the hopes that knowing about this kooky word gives someone the excuse to reach out to someone else and feel a little less alone and a little more close.

We all need that.

Happy gemütlichkeit-ing!

All illustrations are provided by Soosh and used with permission.

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This article originally appeared on 04.09.16


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