Gezellig – Experiencing this Calm, Warm, Togetherness

One thing I find fascinating about the Dutch language is how they have single words that encompass a multitude of things. These words are able to capture emotions, ambiance, and specific details about a situation. A perfect example of this would be the word, gezellig.

Gezellig is a Dutch term that describes having a pleasant or cozy time with friends; with an emphasis on quality social interaction. English does not have a direct translation for this word, as it’s a word that encompasses many aspects.

What makes this dutch word so fascinating, and how can we incorporate more of it in our lives? Let’s dive into all things gezellig to find out. 

What Is Gezellig?

Picture this: you’re out for an evening with friends. You met at a nice restaurant for some drinks, and all around you are people enjoying themselves and having a good time with those they love. There’s music playing and soft lights create a dim, warm glow throughout the space. The restaurant is a favorite meet-up place, and the environment feels wonderful to be in. 

This scenario perfectly describes what gezellig is. Good times with those you love. 

A group of men doing a toast in a restaurant - Gezellig - Gone Minimal
A group of men doing a toast in a restaurant

Now picture this: You just returned home from work. After eating a delicious, home-cooked meal you dim the lights, light some candles, and snuggle up on the couch with a good book.

As lovely as this scenario is, it’s not gezellig. That’s because there’s only one person described. Adding a partner or friend to the scenario would make it very gezellig. A Danish term that would fit perfectly with the above scenario is hygge, which describes a cozy, welcoming atmosphere, with or without those you love. 

Some would argue that even if you returned home to meet your beloved pet, that would not be considered gezellig, because you’re not spending time with a human. I would say it would depend on who you asked. In my opinion, spending time with a pet is just like spending time with a friend, or even a family member, so I would consider being with a pet gezellig. The whole concept is around the fact of friendship and quality time, so there’s not a doubt that pets would fall into that category. 

A woman giving her dog a kiss - Gezellig - Gone Minimal
A woman giving her dog a kiss

Gezellig also has an opposite counterpart to it – ongezellig – meaning not gezellig. This word describes an uncomfortable or awkward situation with people you wouldn’t consider friends. This would be something like going to a party that your roommate invited you to and they’re the only one you know.

Sure, some might find that to be fun, but for me – ongezellig. Or, if I wanted to use the word sarcastically, I might say, “Yeah, that party was so gezellig,” in a way that portrayed it was not, indeed, gezellig. This is a term that is often used in a sarcastic way in the dutch culture. 

I believe gezellig has much to teach us about friendship, and how one may be a better friend.

How Do You Pronounce Gezellig?

Gezellig is a word that may require time and patience to correctly pronounce. Gezellig is pronounced heh-sell-ick, but it’s more helpful to hear how it’s pronounced: 

Now, try it a few times. It’s fun to experiment with words that have such different pronunciations than what we Americans are used to. 

Benefits of Gezellig

I believe gezellig has much to teach us about friendship, and how one may be a better friend. It is part of our human nature to be drawn to community. In fact, through having strong social structures and tribes, humans were able to survive and become what we are now. We need each other to stay strong, connected, and vibrant. 

A recent study published in the National Library of Medicine National Center for Biotechnology Information by Viviana Amati Silvia Meggiolaro, Giulia Rivellini, and Susanna Zaccarin on Italians living as couples has shown that friendship relationships, beyond those within an individual’s family, are an important source of support.

This fact is shown through primates who rely on their dynamic social structure to thrive. By observing primates, scientists have been able to uncover just how important the concept of friendship and community is in our society. It’s not only necessary for our mental well-being, but also for our physical as well.

If you’re interested in learning more about what science has to say about friendship and how it benefits us, check out this scholarly article by Alan R. King, Tiffany Russell, and Amy C. Veith published in Psychology Faculty Publications from the University of North Dakota’s Department of Psychology at UND Scholarly Commons. 

A group of people laughing - Gezellig - Gone Minimal
A group of people laughing

Having strong, quality friendships in one’s life is vitally important. So, how do we nourish these relationships in our lives? The common phrase goes, “to have a friend, be a friend,” meaning, it’s up to you to form healthy friendships in your life. This means having the inspiration to reach out to someone you love and show them you care and value them.

Examples of Gezellig

Here are some ways that you can bring more gezellig into your life: 

  1. Give a thoughtful gift to a friend. 
  2. Invite a few friends over and make them a nice dinner. 
  3. Call and catch up with an old friend. 
  4. Invite some friends out for dinner or for some drinks at a nice cocktail lounge. 
  5. Meet a friend at a coffee shop for some quality conversation. 
  6. Practice intentional presence when with your friends. 
  7. Truly listen to what your friends are saying. 
  8. Reach out to a friend who may be going through a hard time. 
  9. Plan a picnic or camping trip with those you love. 

Gezellig isn’t necessarily about the number of friends one has, or how often one participates in social events. Rather, it’s about the quality and intention of those social interactions. Making quality time with friends a priority in one’s life can form deeper connections that can last a lifetime. 

Gezellig is smiling at strangers, and choosing compassion instead of judgment.

Characteristics of Gezellig

Gezellig is similar to hygge in the fact that it means a warm and comfortable atmosphere, the only difference is that gezellig is more specific to friendship. Characteristics of gezellig include a warm, joyful environment full of good food, drinks, and those you love. 

That being said, gezellig isn’t just about being with people you love, it’s also about how one relates to people in general. This means being friendly and having strong communication skills. Gezellig is supporting one’s community by volunteering with local groups to help those in need. 

Gezellig is also working at a community garden, or growing vegetables and fruits to give to your neighbors. It’s being kind to your waiter and giving them a nice tip. Gezellig is smiling at strangers, and choosing compassion instead of judgment. It’s welcoming guests into one’s home and making sure they have everything they need. 

Planting flowers in a simple garden - Gezellig - Gone Minimal
Planting flowers in a simple garden

Gezellig is a service to humanity that we can all practice and incorporate into our lives. At its base, it’s simply about being a good human and loving those around you. I think we can all get on board with that!

Characteristics of Ongezellig

Want to know what’s super ongezellig? A dictator starting a war over a need for power and harming thousands of innocent lives. 

That’s the most obvious way someone can be ongezellig, but it can also be smaller things as well. Here are some examples: 

  1. Talking to a rude insurance lady on the phone? Ongezellig. 
  2. Having an argument with your partner? Ongezellig. 
  3. Scrolling through social media while hanging out with your friends? Ongezellig. 

Ongezellig is anything that causes disharmony, awkwardness, or discomfort in a social setting. It describes an environment or situation that is dull, uncomfortable, or lacking warmth and sociability. Ongezellig conveys a sense of social and emotional discomfort or an absence of the desired cozy and inviting atmosphere. Basically, don’t be ongezellig. 

A woman looking at her phone and drinking juice - Gezellig - Gone Minimal
A woman looking at her phone and drinking juice

Related Insights

Is hygge the same as gezellig?

Yes and no; it depends on the situation. Everything that’s gezellig will also be hygge, but not everything that is hygge is gezellig. They’re the same in the fact of a warm and comfortable atmosphere, but different in the fact that hygge doesn’t depend on social interactions. In fact, hygge can even be an interior design style, while gezellig is generally not. 

How do you use gezellig in a sentence?

“That dinner last night was gezellig!” 

“That lady was so ongezellig.”

“My date went great, it was very gezellig.”

Real People Who Have Heard The Term Gezellig And What They Would Like To Learn Most About It

Gezellig isn’t a well-known term here in the states, so I was curious if any of my friends and family have heard it before. I first asked them if they have heard of it, and if so (high-five for being cultured) what they like most about this dutch concept. If they haven’t heard of it, I asked if they would like to learn more. Here’s what I discovered: 

Have you heard of Gezellig?Times Selected
Would you like to learn more about Gezellig? 
What do you like most about Gezellig? 
The emphasis on togetherness100%
People who are familiar with the term gezellig and what they would like to learn most about it

Other Resources:

There isn’t a person in the world who wouldn’t benefit from a little more gezellig in their life. Thank you dutch language and culture for sharing such a valuable and interesting concept with us all! Now, it’s my turn to ask, how do you incorporate gezellig into your life? What’s one way you can be a better friend to those around you? 

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