Yep, that is correct, hygge. In this little book by Meik Wiking, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute of Copenhagen, we learn all about hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) and how it almost single-handedly makes Danes the happiest people on earth (or at least in Europe.) Hmm. I guess that is worth exploring. I don't necessarily need to be the happiest person on earth, but I could always bump up my happiness factor a few degrees. Couldn't you? With that thought in mind I purchased The Little Book of Hygge while I was exploring the bookstore in Cannon Beach, Oregon a few weeks ago.
To begin with Meik Wiking defines or rather explains what hygge is by using examples:
- The art of creating intimacy
- Coziness of the soul
- The absence of annoyance
- Creating an atmosphere and an experience
- Being with people we love
- Feeling safe, shielded from the cares of the world so we can let our guard down
- It is NOT about things, though some things like fireplaces, candles, and certain types of lamps will increase the feeling of hygge
- The word hygge originates from a Norwegian word meaning "well-being"
Throughout the book Wiking talks about the way that Danes work at creating spaces which are cozy, comfortable, and homey. They even do this is the corporate world where stores and shops will advertise that their space or product will increase hygge or it is hyggelig[t]. Danes use the word as both an adjective and as a verb. A person my exclaim, "Oh, what a hyggelig living room!" which translates to mean, what a nice, cozy space that is hygge-like, where we can be comfortable and talk. Or they may wonder if their guests hyggede (past tense) themselves after a party. Danes will also use hygge in compound words, like hyggespreder, a person who spreads hygge, or refer to a warm pair of wool socks as hyggesokker. It is all a bit confusing, really, but I can go with it. In fact, I think I am learning a bit of Danish along the way.
But since I do not live in Denmark, how do I increase my hygge here is America, and consequently my happiness? Wiking suggests that we can do it by creating cozy spaces with the use of candles, lighting, comfortable pillows and throws, and serving cake. We can host intimate dinner parties where the goal is to cook something delicious but slowly, and doing it as a group effort. The goal is to create comfort and intimacy. I can work on that.
Some parts of the book seemed more about Danish culture than anything else. Cutting out paper hearts, making a particular rice pudding, risalamande, and wearing woolen scarves don't seem as important as thinking about being welcoming, gentle, warm, and open. The Danes have just incorporated things from their culture into the concept of hygge and it works for them.
As I read the book I thought about how I could work on making my life more hygge and in fact without realizing it, I have already started. For example, now that Don and I live alone, we have started preparing dinner together. Instead of me whipping up something quickly before he gets home from work, I wait for him to get home so we can prepare the meal together. Last night, for example, we had a very hyggeligt experience of cutting up chicken and vegetables together. Then we marinated them while the BBQ got up to temperature. We made the meat and vegetables into shish kabobs to grill. The whole affair took us over an hour before we could eat but the experience of doing it together increased our appreciation of the final product. It was a hygge dinner.
My daughter hosted a pizza party at her home in New York. Twenty five people came, which doesn't sound very cozy. But she did a very hyggeligt thing. She made the dough ahead of time, because it needed time to rise, but otherwise she had everyone create their own pizza from the ingredients they brought to share. Soon a large party of 25 people became a cozy affair of people interacting, and making good food together. That was a hyggeligtpizza-party! (I made that word up.)
Now about the book. Though I enjoyed reading it, I honestly thought I could have gotten the concept easily enough in a magazine article rather than a whole book. But the pictures, recipes, and examples did add to the hyggeligt experience of reading it. Come to think of it, I am glad I read it. Now who should I share the book with next? We need to spread word about hygge around so we can increase happiness in the world. I guess I am the newest hyggespreder.