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Review: The Little Book of Hygge

I began reading Meik Wiking’s The Little Book of Hygge in the waiting area of my daughter’s dance class and it instantly brought me to the country of beautiful design homes with the perfect hygge lighting and warm drinks on dark winter days.

That is what hygge is all about! Transforming an ordinary event like waiting at a dance class into something pleasant that brings us a dose of simple pleasure and appreciation of life every day. Hygge can be found in most places, even in your work place by bringing in i.e. a nice couch for meetings, creating traditions of cake or shared meals on Fridays or just some flowers or tea candles on darker days.

The Little Book of Hygge is definitely one of my new favorites – a classic that shall always stay on my book shelf for my Danish-American husband, children and myself to be reminded of the best part of Danish culture, hygge. Just by looking at the cover and browsing through the beautiful simple illustrations you somehow feel hygge.

As a happiness researcher and CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark Meik Wiking knows a lot about this topic and gets around pretty much all of its facets in this book. He captures the concept of hygge very well for example when he writes:

“In many ways, it (hygge) is like a good hug, but without the physical contact. It is in this situation that you can be completely relaxed and yourself. The art of hygge is therefore also the art of expanding your comfort zone to include other people.”

And I completely agree with him when he writes that Danes do not have monopoly on hygge. A lot of other cultures have similar expressions and there are people all around the world who know that wool-socks, a fireplace and warm drinks will bring you that cozy feeling of comfort/hygge. What makes hygge so special in Denmark is how pervasive it is in our culture and language. We even use it as a verb, as in “Let’s hygge!”

Meik Wiking writes:

“What might also be unique for Denmark when it comes to hygge is how much we talk about it, focus on it, and consider it a defining feature of our cultural identity and an integral part of the national DNA. In other words, what freedom is to Americans, thoroughness to Germans, and the stiff upper lip to the British, hygge is to Danes.

Because of its importance to Danish culture and identity, the Danish language is also rich when it comes to talking about hygge.” 

I could go on and on with great quotes. This book is very helpful in explaining something we Danes know so well that we hardly even know how to describe it. In the past I have disappointed myself with my poor vocabulary when it comes to explaining hygge to non-Danes. “Cozy” is the term I have used the most but hygge is more than just that. There is in fact so much to it that you need a whole book to get around all the facets and nuances. As Meik Wiking writes, there is different hygge for all seasons and there are many ways to create hygge in different settings. The right kind of hygge lighting means a lot and then there is the comfort foods, warm drinks and tactile objects, such as a sheep skin throw, which are helpful as well. Things to hygge with should have have a nice feel to them, even a nice smell.

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A hygge bench outside Bakery by Hermann in Lyngby, Denmark

My favorite part is when Meik Wiking shares his private hygge nook with us: a wide windowsill in the bay window of his apartment filled with pillows and a nice warm drink handy. From there he enjoys watching the warm amber glow from lamps in the other apartments across the courtyard. I used to do the same when I lived in an apartment in Copenhagen. There is something comforting about watching warm lights from other apartments on a dark evening, imagining the life and hygge taking place in the homes all around you. It brings a sense of community with the people around you, even if they are strangers. Maybe even a feeling of safety to be surrounded by so many homes. Safety is another key component in hygge. It is extra hygge if you feel protected from some lurking danger outside, like a raging storm. Meik’s hygge nook is also a great example of how simple and inexpensive hygge is.

The book is a great mix of research data, personal anecdotes and concrete advice on how to bring hygge into your life. I found it particularly interesting when Meik Wiking relates hygge to the reason why Danes are always ranked, if not at the very top then among the top, when it comes to collective happiness. Number one reason which puts Denmark and the other Nordic countries on the top of happiness reports is the welfare state which provides a safety to everyone and eliminates most extreme unhappiness. But next after economic safety and secure surroundings, comes social relations to make us happy. And this is where hygge comes in. Hygge is a glue that binds our close social relations with family, friends and co-workers. Danes rank highest in Europe when it comes to socializing every week. Having good social relations is the second most important factor for happiness when our basic needs for food and security have been fulfilled. According to Meik Wiking hygge might very well be the factor that puts us above the other Nordic welfare states in happiness reports.

When you look at it this way, taking a break to have hygge with your loved ones is not just nice, it is actually paramount to our happiness, health and well-being!  So here is my encouragement to go ahead and see if you can squeeze in some more hygge into your life. If you are looking for inspiration The Little Book of Hygge is a good place to start – just reading it brings instant hygge.

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2 Comments

  1. Kirsten West says

    So true: Everybody can learn the art of Hygge, and the best part is that it doesn’t cost much to Hygge.

    Like

  2. Cindy says

    I was thinking about sitting across looking at the glow of neighbor’s lights. I live in a small housing division in the US. I have made it a point to know my neighbors and their children. I love to look out the window during a snow and see lights on and vehicles in the driveway and everyone home safe. Sometimes we post back and forth on how we are having “hygge” moments and projects we are working on!

    Like

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