I picked up the book after listening to this segment on NPR’s On Point. Loosely translated, “hygge” (pronounced Hhyuoogah) would mean something like cozy + intimate + joyful. I’d say it’s a book about how to feel Christmas-like, all the time. It is interesting to note that the weather in Denmark is not what you’d ask for: continual rain with truly no dry period, very short days during winter and mostly cold weather in general. Despite this, or because of it, the Danes are so good at the art of hygge. The more adverse the weather, the more one feels the security of the warm indoors, safe from the hostile outdoors.
The author of this book Meik Wiking is the CEO of The Happiness Research Institute in Denmark. He tries to bring the reader to understand how it would look and feel to hygge (BTW, hygge can be used as a verb or an adjective). He gives a list of “things” that bring about the required “feeling” and effect: the lighting (like use of candles and diffused lamp lighting, and a wood fireplace, of course), clothing (socks, scarves, woolen jumpers and such), foods (a hot drink, cakes) and the company of a small group of like minded people. How he talks about cake, convincing “scientifically” how our brains are wired for sugar to make us feel good! (All the diet theories out the door I thought to myself; good thing I didn’t have any cupcakes in the fridge.) Reminds me of another such ostracized food, and do excuse my ghee propaganda here: In Ayurveda the meda dhatu, one of the seven fundamental elements in a human body physically representing the fatty tissue, when well nourished, gives the person a feeling of love, compassion and abundance. No wonder the chocolate binging when one is sad or depressed!
It is always simple rustic things that bring about the intimate cozy feeling; hygge is inversely proportional to bling. Surely, the soft touch of wool or the look and feel of rustic wood is much more welcoming than the sterile feeling of steel and glass. The author has an interesting list for ‘hygge on the cheap’. And a list for things to do every month and during the winter and during the summer. Actually, it is a book of lists, and for a list-ful person that I am, I kind of like it. Ok, so moving on, another list has some interesting Danish recipes, but what I loved the “elderflower cordial“, or just the idea of it, bringing to my mind smells and colors of sunshine and lemons! (Pic below).
Denmark, consistently a top ranking country for happiness of the people is concerned, is a welfare state. The Danes worry less creating space for the feeling secure and happy, which, I think, is just wonderful. People mostly bike in Copenhagen instead of using cars. It is all about slowing down and enjoying the now, which, for most us, is but an academic goal set in future time.
What I loved most is to google the list recommendation of places to visit in and around Copenhagen. Below are some pictures from the web. The book is peppered with graphs (no, not intimidating at all) and illustrations which are minimalistic and beautiful, just like the book cover.
To tell you the truth, I started the book in a lot of excitement and expectation that was vaguely in line with Power of Now or Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, books I found phenomenal. This book was nothing like that, and didn’t give me those “aha” moments must’ve been looking for. Useless, I thought a few pages in, much disappointed. However, as I read on (I always try to finish a book I start), it dawned upon me that the book is about the art of creating hygge and thats what it does, and does it alright. Recalibrating my expectations, I found the book written in good humor about good feelings in life and how to go about it by transforming your space. I must say, if not anything else, it certainly makes a beautiful coffee table book with a benign cover and short sections for a quick read. The Little Book Of Hygge on a rustic living room table, some candles, a fireplace and a couple wool blankets thrown in, can’t not add to the hygge factor of one’s space!