Everyone should own the book The Little Book of Hygge, The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking and re-read it for every holiday season. I am bringing mine out now to remind myself of all the hygge (pronounced Hooga, but I have also heard and prefer Hue-ga) things about the holiday. My husband got me this book when he was coming home from a business trip to Denmark a couple years ago. He heard the word Hygge used a couple times and thought I might like the book. Like it? I loved it! I loved it so much I try to embody hygge in my daily living, my home décor, and my relationships. I had no idea hygge was becoming really popular in America at that time with all the influencers. I think it got a little overused and maybe overlooked as a passing international fad. But for me, there is so much more to hygge that this book captures and it’s a word that cannot be properly translated in the American language. So light a candle, pour yourself a cup of hot coffee, put on some warm socks, and let’s take a moment to revisit hygge and all it encompasses as we prepare for the holiday season.
Book Review – The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking
I absolutely love Meik Wiking’s book The Little Book of Hygge, The Danish Way to Live Well. Meik Wiking is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen and answers the question why are Danes consistently ranked the happiest country in the world. His answer might have a lot to do with the art of hygge. He does a fantastic job going into great detail about what hygge is and how to practice it in your daily life by using beautifully illustrated graphs and images. Meik Wiking’s book is filled with delicious Danish recipes, craft ideas, hygge design pointers, hygge clothing essentials, and the most eye pleasing pictures you could ask for. You will be buying candles, whipping up mulled wine, and creating your hygge calendar before finishing this book.
“Hygge has been called everything from ‘the art of creating intimacy’, ‘cosiness of the soul’ and ‘the absence of annoyance’ to ‘taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things’,’cosy togetherness’ and, my personal favourite, ‘cocoa by candlelight’.
The definition I have hanging in my kitchen is also a favorite:
Hygge [hue-gah] noun
a calm, comfortable time with people you love; a complete absence of frustrations, or anything emotionally overwhelming , often enjoyed with good food and drinks, warm blankets, and candlelight.
Hygge versus Cozy
Many Americans associate hygge with cozy. Although cozy may be the closest word to represent hygge and does a good job capturing the feeling of hygge, there is so much more to hygge. Cozy is often associated with fall/winter when we cozy up by the fire on a cold day. Hygge can be that, but it can also be having a BBQ near the beach with close friends. This is why cozy and hygge are a little different. So let’s dive in. What IS hygge?
“You know hygge when you feel it”
What is Hygge?
Here are some of my key takeaways and must haves for a hygge holiday:
Togetherness is a key element of hygge and of happiness. As humans we have a basic need to connect with others. A perfect hygge evening isn’t complete without others nearby. In fact, the majority of Danes surveyed in the book say the perfect amount of people to hygge with is 3-4 people. Get a group together this holiday for a bonfire.
“When I give lectures about happiness research, I ask the audience to close their eyes and tell them to think of the last time they felt really happy.[…] When I ask the audience to raise their hand if they were with other people in their memories, usually nine out of ten do so.”
The book doesn’t say flat out that being intentional is a key component of hygge, but after reading the book, I felt that it was a huge part of all the elements of hygge. From how the Danes select lamps carefully, to preparing food slowly, to designing their homes, everything is very intentional. I love intentionality, I love thoughtfulness behind a beautiful platter of food and a warmly decorated home.
“Hygge is also a situation where there is a lot of relaxed thoughtfulness”
One of the key elements brought up in the book is lighting. The Danes love their candles, and having a warm light is what sets the mood for a hygge evening. The Danes voted that the top 5 most hygge things are hot drinks, candles, fireplaces, Christmas and board games.
“No recipe for hygge is complete without candles”
Another theme I continued to see throughout the book was this idea of contrast. The intro of the book starts off with a story of friends who had been hiking all day to sit inside a cabin by the fireplace in which someone asks “could this be anymore hygge?” “Yes, if there was a storm raging outside” and they all nodded. The idea that there is chaos outside and comfort inside is what adds another element of hygge. A stressful week allows for full enjoyment of a hygge evening wind down. So when you are stressed out leading to Christmas, just remember, that just adds to the hygge to come.
“This is hygge. The more it sets the here and now apart from the tough realities of the outside world, the more valuable it becomes. In this way, achieving hygge [at Christmas] would not be possible without all the bustle and turmoil leading up to Christmas.”
Do it Yourself is another beautiful element of hygge. Try making homemade Christmas cards or rolling out flour to bake sourdough bread for the neighbors. The more rustic, the more hygge it is.
“Old, home-made stuff that has taken a lot of time to make is always more hyggeligt than bought or new.”
Food and Drink
Food and drink is another crucial element of hygge, especially if it’s something warm, something comforting, or something sweet. Read the book to learn how many sweets Danes consume compared to the rest of the world, hint, it’s a lot. You will find plenty of Danish recipes in the book from Ableskivers (Pancake Puffs) to Glogg (mulled wine) to Snobrod (twistbread over a fire). Meik Wiking recommends having a soup cookoff this winter with your closest friends for a hyggeligt evening.
“The rule of thumb is: the longer a dish takes to cook, the more hyggelig it is”
“Preparing hygge food is about enjoying the slow process of it, about the appreciation of the time and the joy of preparing something of value.”
Comfort and Safety
Finally, another element of Hygge is comfort and safety. No one person dominates conversations, no bragging allowed, and a mutual sense of trust and safety is within the group. Hygge is about being with loved ones whom you can let your guard down, its like “a hug without touching”.
“Hygge is about feeling safe”
So perhaps your perfect hygge holiday evening might be having your closest friends over for sugar cookie decorating with the fireplace on, the candles lit, and a kettle of hot cocoa heating on the stove while some cold rain or snow drizzles outside. Ahh yes, that sounds very hygge indeed.
“A hyggelig Christmas begins and ends with family and friends. Those are the people we feel safe around; the ones that make us feel comfortable”
Follow up Reading: If you loved The Little Book of Hygge make sure to read Meik Wiking’s book The Art of Making Memories, you will not regret learning from his wealth of research!
“Hyggekrog [hoogacrow] – The nook of a kitchen or living room where one can sit and have a hyggelig time”
Leave me a comment below on your favorite hygge holiday activities.
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