I very seldom read books about how to be happy because I think they tend to either have only a short-term effect or I find them impractical in some way. I was interested in reading The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking, though, because of the fact that the book is so stinking cute (maybe not the best reason) and it's about how people choose to add joy to their lives in a particular place. Maybe it would not be as applicable as I'd like, but I was still curious. I was not disappointed.
The Little Book of Hygge begins with a brief explanation of the concept of hygge - how to pronounce the word (HOO-GA), the cozy feeling it implies, and why something like a storm merely adds to the kind of comfort and joy that one can experience from elements of hygge like a warm sweater, soft socks, a book, the presence of a few friends, and mellow lighting. Then, it goes into greater detail.
Light is apparently a very big deal in Denmark and my first thought was probably the same as that of most Americans: Ack - candles - fire hazard! Danish people love candles (unscented) and tend to set the mood by lighting a lot of them. While I would love to do that, myself, I am definitely paranoid about fire hazards and it's true that the seeking of warmth generally does not apply to us because of our warm climate. One situation that was described repeatedly was friends gathering around a fire or out on a deck with a hot drink after skiing, when everyone is too tired to speak and the presence of others is a joy, in and of itself.
I do love a crackling fire. But, I doubt I'll ever experience skiing with friends. Oddly, as unrelatable as that is to an American gal living in the Deep South, it's easy enough to imagine and gives you a good sense of the kind of atmosphere hygge is about. As to the idea of lighting lots of candles . . . it sounds lovely in abstract but fire is my pet irrational fear. I am absolutely terrified of fire. My husband loves to light scented candles; I enjoy blowing them out. I imagine my cats jumping onto countertops and setting their tails on fire. So, the lighting concept makes sense to me and yet it feels like something I will never accomplish.
There are plenty more subjects: togetherness, food and drink, clothing, hygge inside and outside the home, Christmas. There is even a summer hygge chapter. Like a Danish winter, Danish summer could not be farther from our personal experience. Again, I don't think that matters because I still got the sense of what the Danish do to make comfort and happiness a part of their lives.
The author talks about other aspects that contribute to happiness, apart from the hygge that is deliberately created through atmosphere. For example, the fact that the Danish are taxed heavily but their tax money goes toward a marvelous social safety net. Healthcare is free; a university education is free. Because the cost of health and education are not concerns, the Danish have less stressful lives to begin with, which gives them the ability to focus on creating joy. But, we can all learn from them, of course.
My favorite part of the book is probably the Hygge Wishlist with 10 items "that will make your home more hygellig," including a comfortable corner (a hyggekrog), things made out of wood or ceramics, books, nature, vintage lighting, and tactile things like a warm drink or a soft pillow. You don't have to live in a cold climate to enjoy any of those things - well, apart from holding a cup of hot liquid. We do save the warm drinks for winter.
Recommended - While I was reading The Little Book of Hygge, I frequently read bits and pieces to my husband and told him a bout how the Danish decorate and use light, comfortable clothing, warm drinks, and friendship to create happiness. Our decorating style - when we put out any effort at all - could be described as Danish Modern, so there are aspects of the decorating already present in our home. We both came out of the reading feeling like it's something we want to study further and that we should focus on ridding ourselves of some of the home furnishings that we ended up with by default (chiefly through the deaths of family members). I put myself on a book-buying ban around the time that I was reading The Little Book of Hygge but I'm still planning to buy some books about the Danish decorating style to use as encouragement and I plan to return to The Little Book of Hygge for advice. As far removed as we are from some of the aspects of Danish life that lead to coziness, like the cold, the snow, and the long, dark winters, I think there's something for everyone in The Little Book of Hygge.
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