A weekend afternoon when I had hurt my lower back and had been told not to walk or run, seemed like the perfect time to lie on the sofa with the dog and read The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking from the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen. It is the kind of book you need in hardback, rather than reading it on Kindle, as it is beautifully designed, full of lovely photos and diagrams, and it gives you a hygge feeling just holding it in your hands, balancing it with a hot drink of course. I have read a lot on happiness (see my various happiness blogs here) but hadn’t got around to reading this bestseller that came out a couple of years ago. It was only when I saw someone on holiday reading The Little Book of Lykke: The Danish Search for the World Happiest People by the same author, that I thought it was about time I read both.
Hygge is a concept that does not easily translate into English. It goes beyond cosiness and is very much about both comforting things and spending time with friends and family. The book outlines the key components of hygge – wooden socks, coffee/hot chocolate/tea, a blanket, an open fire, candles, a small group of close friends – you get the picture. This is how the Danes survive their long, dark winters, and along with a fantastic welfare state, is a key part of why they are always topping happiness surveys. Wiking also points out that hygge is particularly appealing to introverts like me, who get restorative energy from being alone or in smaller groups. This is socialising based around the home, food and friends. The book is packed with recipes, examples of hygge days in all seasons, and tips of where to find the hygge-ist places in Copenhagen, helpful for a future city-break. if this all sounds a bit too twee, Wiking doesn’t shy away from the dark-side of hygge – that it can take a long time for newcomers to Denmark to break into these tightly knit social groups. It also helps to have a nice home and good relationships with friends and family of course.
The Little book of Lykke, Lykke being the word for happiness in Danish, covers the key components of happiness – togetherness, money, health, freedom, trust and kindness, making fascinating international comparisons along the way. A key theme is that inequality gets in the way of happiness. People are happier when they live in more equal societies. There is also a big focus here on work-life balance and the sensible attitude that the Danish have to getting home from work in plenty of time to put their children to bed, working to live rather than living to work. To those of us at work for 9 hours a day and commuting for a further 3, it gives pause for thought. It is a useful reminder of the importance of smiling, being kind and volunteering – making ourselves happy by making other people happy. Like the Little Book of Hygge it is also beautifully presented, filled with photos which make you happier just by looking at them, and it is a pleasure to hold in your hands.
I’d definitely recommend both of these books if you need a reminder of what life’s priorities should be.