The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living, by Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, Copenhagen, published by William Morrow/Harper Collins 2017, cozy, hardcover, 221 pages
When I first heard about the Danish art of hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) from a friend I was slightly insulted.
I’m Danish, I thought, I should have known about this before it was A Thing!
I spent a week in denial, then relented, did a little research, and checked out this book from the library.
As I flipped through the cozy pages I realized that, even though I had never heard the word “hygge” I knew was indeed raised in the Danish tradition of coziness.
Evidence of hygge things in my home:
- You can never have too many blankets, afghans and big fluffy socks.
- You can never have too many pillows.
- Tea, coffee and hot chocolate must be in abundance at all times.
- When I called my Danish mom crazed with child chaos she suggested, “Just take them in your lap, wrap up in a blanket and rock them slowly. Just relax.” And it worked. Moms are so smart, especially Danish ones.
I also realized that to create a peaceful atmosphere someone has to show you how.
I fortunate to be raised in an atmosphere of happiness. When you make it a practice in your life to walk, crawl or run back to happiness, you can handle all the problems life throws at you.
According to my parents, I am German, Danish and Austrian (back when it was Austria-Hungry, so it’s more like Slavic/Czech). Of these three my mother chose to raise us Danish. Danish layer cake. Pickled herring. Smiling. Laughing. Smorgasbord. Fair, easily sunburned skin. High cheekbones. Red highlights in the hair, but not ginger.
Years after striking out on my own, I learned that Danes are some of the happiest people in the world. But that is because they work at it.
Here are some, but not all, happy hygge elements (noted in Wiking’s book) I was raised with:
Candles: We had candles lit in the house most of the time, and just about every night. My mom kept a stash in the linen closet so we would never run out.
Lamps: Lighting was important. Too bright and people get irritated (I get a headache). Too dim and you have to squint. We had lamps strategically placed throughout our home. If one was too bright, we worked to fix it. This was a continuing project. In my own home I am picky with my lighting. I believe home lighting is getting too bright and lighting my home appropriately has become a new challenge.
Hot drinks: Yes, even in Phoenix we had hot drinks. Yes, sometimes even in the summer. Hot coffee with all kinds of additions in the morning. Every morning. Coffee, tea or hot chocolate in the evening. Yes, coffee in the evenings. Then we would sit in our comfortably lit living room and read with our hot drinks, commenting from time to time on thoughts that we wanted to share. Then silence. Then discussion. Then silence … like a dance.
Fireplace: We had two fireplaces. The one in the family room was not used as much as the one in the living room. When my parents searched for a house, this was at the top of their list of priorities. The house must have a fireplace. When the temps got down to 60 degrees, Dad built the first fire of the fall. It was a tradition. We would burn pine on one night and orange wood on the next noting the differences in burn rate and aroma. We tried those sparkly crystal things you throw on the flames and they make all different colors. We even burned balled up wrapping paper after Christmas, noting what colors each design made.
Truce: When we were relaxing around the fireplace, or outside in the shade by the pool, the rule was no politics, nothing that would cause discord within the family or the friends gathered. That’s not to say my family didn’t enjoy politics. I remember many heated discussions in the church parking lot. But I was trained that there is a time and a place.
Grandfather Clock: While my parents never owned a floor model grandfather clock, they did display the cuckoo clock my uncle gave to my grandmother during his stint in the navy. After my grandmother passed away this handsome hand-carved clock from the Black Forests of Germany was bequeathed to my father. Sometimes the clip-clop kept me awake at night, but that sound was always comforting.
Alone Together: Hygge can be enjoyed by introverts such as myself. I remember many evenings after supper sitting in the corner by the fish tank reading my book while my brother discussed something with my dad. I was alone in the world of my book, but I was together with my family.
Activities: Quiet activities in my home were board games, card games, chess and puzzles. We watched television and movies, but that was rare. My parents held on tightly to that balance. I am sad to say I have failed at keeping that precious balance of peace within my home. But I haven’t given up!
Food: There were always sweet things to snack on in the evenings, and we were not fat people. Somehow the balance of peace and sweetness guarded against extra pounds. Perhaps it was moderation without guilt. Snack choices changed a bit when we moved from Kimberly, Wisconsin to Phoenix, Arizona. Sometimes the snacks included chips and salsa, or some other Southwestern treat. Hot spiced apple cider. Popcorn (every flavor ever made), ice cream with different toppings, all different kinds of cakes and cookies and pies.
Baking: According to Wiking, Hygge includes baking, and, boy, did we bake! I still do lots of baking. It takes patience for bread to rise and for cookies to turn out just right. Hygge is practiced patience.
Clothing: In the winter, even in Phoenix, we had a variety of scarves, hats, mittens, bulky, layering, and socks. Lots of socks. I carried this tradition into my own family. Remember the sock basket where unmatched socks went to live? Like jail? We never ever ever threw away a sock, especially a good sock.
Comfy Chairs: If a chair was not comfortable, it was given away. Such was the rule in my home. Probation time was one month. Comfortable does not always mean soft-sink-in-until-you-can’t-get-out comfy. Every chair had to perform under the strict rules of easy to get in, easy to get out, doesn’t make your back hurt after 20 minutes, or put your feet to sleep. Couches must be comfortable enough for the occasional nap. The couch I have now is ripped up and an embarrassment when company comes over, but the comfort value of this couch is so high I cannot bare to part with it.
Blankets and Cushions: I have been quoted as saying, “You can never have too many blankets,” especially when I’m giving blankets for Christmas. You can also not have too many pillows. At the time of this writing it is winter and there are seven blankets in the living room and five pillows. This is just about the right amount of blankets, but definitely not enough pillows. “Pillows” are on the list for shopping this week. Yes, really. This does not count the personal blankets we all carry around the house (which saves money on heating bills) or the personal pillows we take with us from chair to chair. Note: Large teddy bears can second as pillows.
Nostalgia: This is something on my ultimate to-do list. Remembering times past is important, according to Wiking, especially in the family gatherings. Where else will the children learn their roots? Just remembering one or two things from your childhood while sitting around a puzzle does wonders for stress relief and the bonding of the past and the future.
Wiking concludes: “Hygge may help us to be grateful for the everyday because it is all about savoring simple pleasures. Hygge is making the most of the moment, but Hygge is also a way of planning for and preserving happiness. Danes plan for Hyggelige times and reminisce about them afterward.”
This book was a wonderful comfort to me and brought back a lot of wonderful memories. Even if you are not Danish, but would like to understand how they do life, read this book.
Included in this book is the Hygge Manifesto which will work well in any home to bring more peace and calm, creating an island of sanctuary in our crazy fast world.
Here are a few places you can go to learn more:
Happiness Research Institute: https://www.happinessresearchinstitute.com/
“Happiness consists more in small conveniences of pleasures that occur every day, than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom.” – Benjamin Franklin