GETTING HYGGE WITH IT
Denmark tops the happiest nation polls year after year. Its secret is out – here’s how to tap into it. By Tara Ali
Yes, education is heavily subsidised, the government is on point in providing housing to those doing it tough, welfare programs alleviate many of the issues faced by the ill, the aged or the unemployed, the job rate is the envy of many other countries and income across the board is relatively high. But there’s more to Denmark’s reputation as the happiest nation on the planet.
One of its exports you probably haven’t heard of, but instinctively feel, is hygge (pronounced “hoo-ga”). It’s one of those untranslatable words, but the closest seems to be “cosy”. Think fairy lights in winter, enjoying reading in a cosy nook at a beautiful house wearing a soft knit jumper and you’re halfway there.
“The word defies literal translation. It can be an adjective or a noun, but the best explanation I’ve seen is this one: ‘a complete absence from anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming; taking pleasure from the presence of gentle, soothing things’,” says Helen Russell, author of The Year of Living Danishly – Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country.
After 12 years of working on magazines in London, Russell moved to Denmark. “Within two months, I found myself watching the sun set in a blizzard from a hot tub, beer in hand, and witnessed the ultimate in commitment to hygge: a campervan driving down the motorway with candles in the windows (candles are a key component and Danes burn the highest number in Europe).
“It’s difficult to overstate the importance of hygge in living Danishly – it’s everywhere. And it’s making Danes happier.”
THE SECRET TO JOYFUL LIVING
Denmark emerged as the happiest country in the world in the 2016 United Nations World Happiness Report, a spot it also took out in 2013 and 2014. Hygge living is part of the reason – the Danes make enjoyment of everyday things a priority and a big part of their lifestyle is gathering together and eating, chatting and huddling. Many studies have shown that people who see their friends frequently report greater life satisfaction.
“Hygge is often tied up with the weather, which has a bonding effect in Denmark. It’s so cold and dark from October to March that everyone comes together at home,” Russell says. And they don’t just toss a pack of chips in a bowl and switch on The Real Housewives. Thought is put into making everything as cosy as possible at home and for guests.
“Having friends over, you make sure all is nice and tidy and clean and often there will be candles giving a warm, soft light to create an atmosphere. You all make the effort to have a nice time together,” Soren Hoimark, president of the Danish Club in Brisbane, says. You’re getting the picture – candles, check. Mood lighting, check. Here’s how to bring more hygge to your life.
DO IT LIKE THE DANISH
YOUR HOME: Scandinavian interior design is simple and fresh, with a mix of cool art/flea market finds, neutralcoloured furniture and lots of different textures. Ikea is a good place to start for hygge items for your house.
“Danish furniture taste is minimalist, clean lines, lots of timber, lots of white on walls and whitewashed floors, and then strong colours for curtains and pillows,” says Hoimark. Don’t forget the tealights: (1) Timber and Brass Candle Tända Modern ($69.95, tandamodern.com).
YOUR OUTLOOK: Hygge is not just about cosy material things, it’s also a philosophy. “To me it’s about being kind to yourself,” Russell says. “Indulging, having a nice time, not punishing or denying yourself anything. There isn’t much enforced deprivation in Denmark, instead people are kinder to themselves and this in turn makes you nicer to other people and more generous and kind to society as a whole.” It’s very hygge to be relaxed and to take time to make everyday things pleasurable. Do more of the little things that make you happy, such as posting a handwritten letter or having a warm bath in the middle of the day. Read (2) The Year of Living Danishly – Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country by Helen Russell ($22.99, Allen & Unwin).
HOSTING: Hygge in summer isn’t far off a typical Aussie barbie with cold beers and good friends in a park. Winter time is when the cosy aspect really comes into play and you create a beautiful evening that you share with your good mates.
“A lot of care goes into selecting nibblies and welcome drinks,” Hoimark says. “It’s preferably something homemade; the host would have found interesting recipes – preferably something new and different or very traditional.”
The idea is to keep the conversation warm too, Hoimark explains, so no discussing Donald Trump or anything likely to cause disagreements. “Mainly you focus on the individuals and their lives.” Serve guests using (3) Kali jugs (from $24.95 each, aurahome.com.au).
PARENTING: The intimacy and connectedness of hygge is taught to children by their parents in Denmark. Parents and kids often cycle to school together. Rather than being a place to dump your school backpack and fire up the Xbox, home hygge
According to the OECD’s Better Life Index, more than 73% of Danes aged 15-64 have a job but only 2% report working excessively long hours.
time is a team concept, where everybody works together to have “we time”. Family dramas and complaining are left outside the door and phones can be put away all together in one spot to charge (like a little phone family), so you can eat and share food. All with candles burning to add some cosiness. The Danes are even known to eat breakfast by candlelight on cold winter mornings. What a lovely idea.