Saturday, 13 February 2016

Getting Hyggey with it - Thoughts on 'The Year of Living Danishly'

Taken from my Instagram here
Ok ok, I know that title doesn't really work. 'Hygge' is actually pronounced 'hooga' but that didn't open itself up to quite so many obvious jokes, or at least the one that's sat above. What is hygge though and why am I so excited about it? Read on.

I had high expectations about this book - so many people had raved about it and mentioned wanting to move to Denmark afterwards, or at least recreating a little of Denmark at home. The author, Helen Russell, is persuaded to move from London to Denmark for a year after her husband gets a job at Lego. As a journalist, she decides to investigate why Denmark is labelled the happiest country in the world, speaking to famous names from Denmark's worlds of art, culture and education (to mention just a few). The book is divided up into the months of the year, focusing on a specific topic and discoveries that month, wrapped up with a 'things I've learned this month' section. If the book had simply focused on facts and statistics, I don't think I'd have kept reading but I really enjoyed discovering Danish culture through Helen's eyes, as she was even able to find the funny side of moving to a new country in January, when the cold and dark drives everyone indoors, and they're sternly reprimanded by their bearded neighbours (the Misters Beard) for running the wrong flag up their flag pole. It turns out that Denmark is a country that loves a rule, where tradition is keenly prized, where although the citizens are eye-wateringly taxed, they are really well looked after by the state and this fills them with a sense of national pride and people appear to genuinely trust each other.

Image found on Pinterest here
To be fair, I was hooked as soon as I picked up this book and opened the prologue, where Helen initially talks about her life in London. Phrases like "Sunday evenings had become characterised by a familiar tightening in my chest at the prospect of the week ahead, and it was getting harder and harder to  keep from hitting the snooze button several times each morning" and "I was always trying to do too many things at once and always felt as though I was falling behind" felt terrifyingly familiar. I was keen to discover if there's anything I can do to try to avoid feeling like this all the time, without having to relocate to another country.


Trust, as I mentioned above, seems to be the key to happiness - making people around you happy, and yourself happier by not stressing so much. There's also so much importance placed on family and friends, which I love - the traditions and rituals which form a great part of Danish society all focus on spending more time with the people who are important to you. Doing activities outside work is massively encouraged - sport, craft, whatever you're interested in. As play forms a huge part of children's education, it's something we shouldn't stop doing as adults - life is to be enjoyed! And what about hygge, which after reading this book, seemed to be a concept I've spent my whole life looking for without realising it...

Image found here
I'd describe it as 'cosiness', about searching for contentment rather than perfection in life, about taking pleasure in the small things. Candlelight is an important part of hygge - the simple act of lighting a candle makes me feel calmer and there's nothing cosier than sitting in a room filled with flickering candle light or, the ultimate cosy, beside a roaring fire. When it's dark and cold outside, hygge is spending time with people you love, creating a warm and cosy environment and also just making time for yourself so that you become more content. That's not to be sniffed at.

Also, if this book doesn't leave you craving Danish pastries, then you're a stronger person than I am. They're hygge too, you know.

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