The Little Book of Hygge

I recently read The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking.  I have been listening to the podcast, By the Book, where each episode is about a different self-help book.  When I listened to the hygge episode, I knew that I had to read the book.  Before that, I didn’t know anything about hygge.  But it definitely is how I prefer to live.

Hygge is a Danish word that can’t be exactly translated into English.  It is pronounced something like “hooga.” 

Wiking works at the Happiness Research Institute, which studies what makes people happy and how to improve the quality of life of people around the world.  It is based in Denmark, which often ranks as the happiest nation in the world.  The cultural concept of hygge is one aspect of why that may be so.

Reading the book reminded me of my book nook that I created several months ago.  I was focusing on hygge and didn’t even know it!  It is my very own hyggekrog!

There is even a song from the Broadway musical version of Frozen all about hygge!

In the book, Wiking lists a hygge manifesto, which boils down to the following ten concepts:

The book addresses various aspects of hygge.  The first chapter is on light.  The Danes love candles and burn them all the time everywhere.  Scented candles are not a big deal.  It is more about the light.  They are also really into hyggelig lighting, which is at a lower temperature (definitely not fluorescent).  They prefer a certain style of lamps, which “spread the light without subjecting people to a direct glare.”  To create a hygge mood, there should be a lot of candles and small lamps to create “small caves of light” around the room.  Denmark is dark and rainy, especially in the long winter.  Lighting design can help increase those feelings of coziness and intimacy.

I feel like I have always been the opposite.  When I walk into a hotel room, I always want to know why they have several lamps rather than one big overhead light.  I’ve been trying to light candles more, but usually for the scent, not the lighting aspect.  I feel weird in dimly lit restaurants.  But do I just want those bright lights just because that is what I’m used to?  I’m going to experiment with turning out the lights more and lighting the candles.  We are in the process of buying a new house.  When we move in a few weeks and I start decorating my new house, I am going to think about putting more lamps around, so that I at least have the option of hyggelig lighting when I want it.  Maybe even some fairy lights!

Most of the candles that I have owned in my life have been gifts or come in a subscription box, such as Causebox.  If I am going to be increasing my candle consumption and purchasing more candles myself, I will make sure to buy eco-friendly, all-natural candles.  The book even mentions the air pollution and negative effects of burning too many candles, but it doesn’t address that there are options out there that are better than others.  If you didn’t know that there was a difference in candles, just google non-toxic candles to find out what to look for when purchasing a candle.

Another chapter in the book is on togetherness.  Hygge mostly happens in small groups of close friends or family.  It is perfect for introverts like me who would prefer a relaxing, cozy night with a few friends to a big, loud gathering at a bar.  I could still work on having more hygge togetherness moments, as I am not as always as social as I feel that I should be.  Wiking says that the art of hygge involves “the art of expanding your comfort zone to include other people.”  We are social creatures and as most happiness research shows – “the best predictor of whether we are happy or not is our social relationships.”  It is important to have work-life balance in order to have those hygge moments with your family and friends.

Playing games together as a family.

What about hyggelig food and drink?  The book states “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.”  Danes eat a lot of sweets.  Sweets are hyggelig.  Comforting, slow-cooked foods are also hyggelig.  The smells that permeate your house when baking bread or cooking a hearty stew definitely increase the coziness factor.  Hot drinks are also very soothing.  I’m not a coffee drinker, but tea and hot chocolate are nice when snuggling up under a blanket with a good book.  The process of creating good food alone or with others is very hyggelig.

hot chocolate

I’m not sure that I can convert to the Danish hygge definition of clothing.  I am all for the casual and comfortable, but my style is not minimalistic, black, and full of scarves.  I rarely wear scarves, and I love color.  I like my clothes to be fun and put a smile on my face.  That is hygge clothing to me.  I will wear the comfy sweater and leggings, but they just might be bright pink instead of gray!

Danes are really into design since so much of hygge takes place at home.  Since I am about to move into a new house, I am thinking about how I can make it as hyggelig as possible.  The items in my home should be comforting.  Items should be more than just the physical object, but hopefully have a story or emotional value to go with them.  Wiking says that decorating with wooden items and simple, natural materials makes us feel closer to nature.  Maybe that is why farmhouse decor is so popular in the U.S. right now.

He also says that we should add a variety of textures to our home.  Not just cozy blankets and cushions, but how do the other items feel to the touch?  Smooth ceramics, a wooden table, etc.  Also a good hygge home should have books.  And take the time to hand write letters.  Very hygge.

I also want to make my office more hygge.  I am a school counselor, so obviously the more comfortable and inviting my office is, the better.  I’ve also had many students over the years ask to turn out the overhead lights and just sit in the natural light in my office.

Hygge is supposed to be in all aspects of our lives.  We shouldn’t hygge just at home, but also at the office, at restaurants, out in nature, etc.

Hygge is also about experiencing and savoring the present moment.  I’ve written about my struggle to be more present before.  It’s an ongoing piece of work.

The Christmas season is the epitome of hygge.  It has all of the required elements – family and friends, traditions, food, decorations.  The book talks about some common Danish traditions.  I would love to form even more traditions in my family surrounding the holidays.

One of our Christmas traditions – Celebration in the Oaks

What about you?  Do you try to “hygge-fy” your life?  And yes, I did just make up that word.

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