Den­mark tops the hap­pi­est na­tion polls year after year. Its se­cret is out – here’s how to tap into it. By Tara Ali

Sunday Herald Sun - Body and Soul - - WELLBEING -

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.”


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.


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, tan­damod­

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, au­ra­

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.

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