Updated: Feb 26, 2019
Danish Secrets to Happy Living, by Meik Wiking
If you are getting a little sick of the bitter cold and incessant snow that's come with this endless winter, then I have a present for you: The Little Book of Hygge. It's a book about happiness, and how you can create some right now, no need to leave the house.
Hygge, pronounced hoo-ga, is the Danish art of being warm and intimate, and create spaces and experiences that revolve around coziness and pleasure. Sound good yet? It's the perfect antidote for the winter blues.
"Danes are the happiest people in Europe according to the European Social Survey, but they are also the ones who meet most often with their friends and family and feel the calmest and most peaceful. Therefore, it is with good reason that we see a growing interest in hygge."
The book itself, written by CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen (seriously, can I have that job please?), is hardly a hard-hitting factual dissertation on happiness. Rather, it reads like a magazine or several Buzzfeed lists put together, all with lovely ideas to create atmosphere and coziness. There is a chapter on lighting; there is a chapter on Christmas. There are sweet scandinavian-inspired doodles throughout that make this book a pleasure to look at as well as to read, so I suggest leaving it out as a mini coffee table book, especially during the dark months. It's basically the perfect Christmas gift (or midwinter gift?)
Canadians understand inherently the concept of hygge (it is compared to the Canadian idea of "hominess" in the book), as an escape from the cold and the dark. The colder and darker things are elsewhere, the more hygge it becomes when you are in light and warmth. Therefore, sitting in front of a fire with a cup of hot cocoa is even more hyggelit when there is a storm blowing outside.
Apparently, the answer to what makes us happy is very simple: candles.
I personally was designed for hygge - it combines two of my favourite things, introversion and the slow movement! Everything I love most in the world is hygge: cooking, knitting, reading in front of the fire with a glass of wine, board game nights and many many candles. It contrasts rather abruptly with the American concept of always needing to be bigger, better, newer, more extreme!!!! Meanwhile the Danes are all: where are my candles? They accept the world as it is and then make it cozy. Hygge is a very comfortable form of zen.
In fact, the Danes are pretty awesome. They take some environmental and social drawbacks (as in, not seeing the sun for six months out of the year and one of the highest tax rates in the world) and turn them into positives that allow them to be one of the happiest nations in the world. They embrace a strong welfare state to reduce extreme poverty and unhappiness, and out of darkness has come the light that is hygge.
"The support [for the welfare state] stems from an awareness of the fact that the welfare model turns our collective wealth into well-being. We are not paying taxes, we are investing in our society."
You might think it's all too easy, too good to be true, right? In a world where we're always being pressured to try the next juice fast (and yes, guilty as charged, I tried a juice fast while ironically reading about hygge. Nothing is less hygge than a juice fast. I gave up quickly because I can't without coffee), a place where eating cake is integral to the culture must be massively unhealthy, right? So I looked it up, and apparently not so - Denmark has one of the lower proportions of overweight and obese adults, despite eating twice the European average of candy per year. So what gives? Maybe it has everything to do with embracing the experience and allowing yourself to sweetly sin with some indulgent treats. Whatever the reason, I think I'm in. Do treat yourself, as long as it's done in the spirit of self-love.
"The high level of meat, confectionary and coffee consumption in Denmark is directly linked to hygge. Hygge is about being kind to yourself - giving yourself a treat, and giving yourself, and each other, a break from the demands of healthy living."
Hygge is slow culture too. I like how the process is emphasized over the final product. It's okay to make mistakes, as Wiking shows with a disastrous evening of sausage making, or a homemade limoncello that wasn't that great but brought a lot of joy over the course of the time it took to make. It's the opposite of the Instagram culture where the only thing that matters is what something looks like on the surface and not the substance behind it. (Oops, guilty again. I need to rethink my life.)
So in conclusion, take care of yourself and treat yourself nicely, spend time with the people you love, engage in deep conversations and light many many candles and you just might find your hygge-place. This winter will end and you will get through this next thing. In the meantime, slip into a warm sweater and slippers and enjoy a mulled wine in front of the fire.