Jan 2, 2024 - Health

Gezellig: How to be cozy like the Dutch

Illustration of a cup of tea with a slice of lemon in it. Two women are sitting and chatting on the lemon slice.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

There's a Dutch word that describes feeling cozy, usually with friends or loved ones: gezellig.

Why it matters: The gezellig Dutch culture can remind us all to be more present with friends and ourselves.

Thought bubble: On a recent — very cold — trip to Amsterdam, I found the town overflowing with warmth.

  • It wasn't just the hot soup, fondue and ginger tea, but a friendly, intimate atmosphere.
  • As a local named Sjoerd explained to me: That's gezellig, a word that can describe getting beers with friends, the beer itself or the place where you get the beers.

Gezellig is "a positive warm emotion or feeling rather than just something physical," Ella Frances Sanders writes in her book about untranslatable words.

Zoom out: Casual get-togethers are a hallmark of the happy lifestyle in the Netherlands, where there's also a word for hanging out by yourself: niksen.

  • "The idea of niksen is to take conscious, considered time and energy to do activities like gazing out of a window or sitting motionless," writes Olga Mecking, a multilingual author who lives in the Netherlands.

Between the lines: Much like the rest of their European neighbors, the Dutch have systems in place to help them prioritize downtime.

  • For example: "In the Netherlands, people take long holidays … and it's not considered a good thing if they see you at work late," Mecking tells Axios.
  • Other factors: The parental leave policy and universal health care.

If you're looking to have a gezellig event — if not a lifestyle — you can do as the Dutch do.

  • Invite only people you like, serve shared finger foods (like bitterballen), and keep things small and informal, says Mecking.
  • In the Netherlands, "cozy places don't tend to be very big and splashy," she says — but they do tend to be old, filled with plants and warmly lit.

Of note: Here are words for coziness in two other languages…

Go deeper: This is the second story in our series about words that don't have perfect English translations.

Go deeper