Get­tin’ Hygge With It

The lat­est Nordic lifestyle trend is an an­ti­dote to, well, lifestyle

ZOOMER Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Re­becca Field Jager

I’M STAND­ING in front of the iconic home fur­nish­ings store, Il­lums Bo­lighus, in Copen­hagen, trans­fixed by the win­dow dis­play. I know lit­tle about Dan­ish de­sign so it’s not that which holds me but in­stead the slice-of-life sce­nario play­ing out be­hind the glass. Two face­less, wig­less man­nequins, clad in slip­pers and pa­ja­mas, seem to be gaz­ing out and into the rainy street from their ele­gantly un­der­stated bed­room. Can­dles, knick-knacks and books stacked askew clut­ter nearby end ta­bles, and min­i­mal­ist lamps cast a golden hue sug­gest­ing it is mid­morn­ing. From the un­made bed be­hind them, with its ran­domly scat­tered pil­lows and crum­pled sheets and du­vet, it ap­pears the cou­ple has just got up and is pon­der­ing whether they should stay up or go back to bed. So invit­ing is the scene that I find my­self hop­ing they’ll choose the lat­ter so that I can crawl be­neath the cov­ers with them.

This is hygge at its finest, I re­al­ize, its pull so strong a mid­dle-aged woman can find her­self fan­ta­siz­ing about a non-con­ju­gal mé­nage à trois with a pair of syn­thetic moulds.

In case you’ve just crawled out of a cave (which is per­fectly fine so long as it was can­dlelit), hygge – pro­nounced hue-gah or hoo-gah – is the lat­est lifestyle craze, the sub­ject of count­less ar­ti­cles and more than two dozen books, all of which have hit the shelves dur­ing the past year – and count­ing. This fall, for ex­am­ple, will see the re­lease of The Hygge Life: Em­brac­ing the Nordic Art of Co­zi­ness Through Recipes, En­ter­tain­ing, Dec­o­rat­ing, Sim­ple Rit­u­als, and Fam­ily Tra­di­tions.

Its us­age was so high in Bri­tain in 2016 that the word hygge was named a word of the year by the Collins Dic­tio­nary along with Brexit and Trump­ism. Collins de­scribes it as: the prac­tice of cre­at­ing cosy, con­ge­nial en­vi­ron­ments that pro­mote emo­tional well-be­ing. It’s hot bev­er­ages and knit­ted things, cosy nooks and com­fort food, can­dles lit with wooden matches, never bat­ter­ies. It’s about bi­cy­cles with woven bas­kets, cush­ions, blan­kets and books. It’s about a small group gath­er­ing at some­one’s home en­joy­ing the plea­sure of each other’s com­pany hud­dled around a hearth.

And it’s hit­ting Canada hygge-style – not so much like a tsunami but more like a warm wave wash­ing over us and sweep­ing us up and into a state of euro-pho­ria.

When I first heard about hygge, I didn’t have to rush out and pur­chase the props. I’m Cana­dian af­ter all and al­ready pos­sess mugs, sweaters, can­dles and most of the other trap­pings. So why then, when I sur­round my­self with such be­long­ings don’t I ex­pe­ri­ence over­whelm­ing joy? Be­cause al­though cer­tain things pro­mote hygge, it is a state of well-be­ing achieved when you feel com­fort­able be­ing your­self in the pres­ence of peo­ple you love.

Hmph, I thought. Well, I love my daugh­ter, Sa­man­tha, and she’s work­ing in Europe right now, so that’s why I’m over here to meet up with her to ex­pe­ri­ence hygge and a few other Scandi trends, first­hand.

Ac­cord­ing to Meik Wik­ing, the au­thor of the best-sell­ing The Lit­tle Book of Hygge: The Dan­ish Way to Live Well, hygge comes from a Nor­we­gian word mean­ing well-be­ing and first ap­peared in writ­ten Dan­ish in the early 1800s. So the con­cept isn’t new, just the at­ten­tion sur­round­ing it is. In part, the hoopla stems from the fact that Danes con­sis­tently place among the top three in the UN World Hap­pi­ness Re­port, a sur­vey that ranks hap­pi­ness lev­els in more than 150 coun­tries. So, as Wik­ing says, since the re­port was first re­leased in 2012, ev­ery­one from jour­nal­ists to re­searchers to pol­i­cy­mak­ers are study­ing the Danes to see what makes them so happy.

As a sci­en­tist and the CEO of the The Hap­pi­ness Re­search In­sti­tute in Copen­hagen, an in­de­pen­dent think tank that fo­cuses on hap­pi­ness and qual­ity of life, Wik­ing of­ten won­dered if hygge might be the se­cret of hap­pi­ness. Af­ter all, it’s prac­ti­cally founded in a Dane’s DNA and prac­tised by every Dane al­most daily. And so he put hygge under a mi­cro­scope, dis­sected it and then wrote about his find­ings.

Hygge poo-gah, say the skep­tics. Den­mark and the rest of the Scan­di­na­vian coun­tries do well on hap­pi­ness sur­veys be­cause they

live in wel­fare states with good wages, free univer­sity and cra­dle-to-grave health care. Sound fa­mil­iar? In­deed health and in­come are among the six fac­tors mea­sured in the World re­port so, cer­tainly, fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity and ac­cess to af­ford­able health care weigh in.

“Our re­search shows that in­come and hap­pi­ness are only re­lated as long as you need money to make ends meet. Af­ter that, money isn’t as im­por­tant,” Wik­ing states.

What is? Spend­ing time with peo­ple you care about. In fact, says Wik­ing, a study that fol­lowed the same peo­ple for 75 years shows that the key to hap­pi­ness is not fame and for­tune but one’s so­cial re­la­tions, es­pe­cially as we age and no longer have con­nec­tions at work. “We need to have re­la­tions with our fam­ily and with friends. And not just re­la­tions but deep and good re­la­tions.”

The trick, then, is to cre­ate a life that fosters mean­ing­ful re­la­tion­ships and here’s where hygge shines. To­geth­er­ness is a huge hygge deal. Al­though you can ex­pe­ri­ence hygge alone – read­ing a book by can­dle­light be­neath a cosy quilt, say – the most hyggelig times in­volve a small group of peo­ple, three or four be­ing ideal. Af­ter that, the hygge man­i­festo in­cludes turn­ing the lights down and the cell­phones off, break­ing out the cook­ies and cakes, al­low­ing equal time for ev­ery­one to speak within a con­ver­sa­tion that ide­ally is void of high drama.

And then, there’s grat­i­tude. Take it in. This might be as good as it gets, Wik­ing writes.


An­other sig­nif­i­cant hygge fac­tor? Shel­ter, that is, the home. Trine Hah­ne­mann, 52, the au­thor of sev­eral Scan­di­na­vian cook­books in­clud­ing Scan­di­na­vian Com­fort Food: Em­brac­ing the Art of Hygge, ex­plains that the cold, wet weather cou­pled with the lack of day­light through­out the win­ter forces folks to spend a great deal of time in­doors.

Your home, then, is a sanc­tu­ary, a place that is warm, re­lax­ing and safe. And while Nordic de­sign is all the rage with its neu­tral pal­ette, blend of style and func­tion and ma­te­ri­als sourced from na­ture, hygge is not so much about fur­nish­ings and decor as it is at­mos­phere. Hah­ne­mann cites a big din­ing room ta­ble that in­vites post-din­ner lin­ger­ing or a comfy nook within the kitchen as fine hygge ex­am­ples.

The most im­por­tant thing, she stresses, is hav­ing a home that makes folks who just hap­pen to drop in feel wel­come.

“In Den­mark, when some­one comes by we don’t say, ‘Hello, how are you?’” Hah­ne­mann laughs. “If you ask a Dane that, they’ll think you mean it and start telling you! No, we say, ‘Hello, would you like a cup of cof­fee?’ Then you of­fer them some­thing to eat.”

Al­though the world went crazy over Nordic cui­sine af­ter Noma was named the best res­tau­rant in the world back in 2010 and the new Nordic cui­sine is trend­ing to­day, eat­ing out isn’t a big part of the tra­di­tional Dan­ish cul­ture. Hyggelig times at the beach or in a café or at a ski chalet are plen­ti­ful, but Danes are home­bod­ies or some­one else’s home­bod­ies. Most, at least the over-50 crowd, pre­fer to get to­gether a few times a week in each other’s kitchens.

“The young peo­ple go out, yes, but evenings are more hyggelig when you en­ter­tain at home,” says Hah­ne­mann. “Part of this is be­cause the noise in some restau­rants pre­vents good con­ver­sa­tion. The other thing is that if you go to a res­tau­rant, you only get two hours, and Danes don’t do two hours. We like to hang out and talk for maybe five hours!”

Danes love com­fort food so get-to­geth­ers are not fancy – bread, salad and a roasted chicken will do. “Any­thing cooked low and slow like osso buco is ex­tra hygge.”

This be­ing Scan­di­navia, par­ties are timed around the light. In parts of the sum­mer when it doesn’t get dark un­til 11 p.m., events start later but, in the spring, peo­ple are in-

The word hygge – pro­nounced hue-gah or hoo-gah – was a Collins Dic­tio­nary word of the year in 2016

vited ear­lier so they can have a glass of wine or cham­pagne out­side with a few canapés be­fore hav­ing to head in.

“We love the out­doors,” says Hah­ne­mann, “and we are out­side as much as pos­si­ble.”

Cer­tainly that’s what struck my daugh­ter and me as we strolled through Copen­hagen’s busy Amager­torv Square. Even though it was -3 C out and a wet snow was fall­ing, peo­ple wined and dined on the canopied pa­tios sit­ting around ta­bles next to heaters, wrapped in the blan­kets the restau­rants pro­vide.

But our ul­ti­mate hygge mo- ment came on our fi­nal night in Copen­hagen when a friend of Sa­man­tha’s from Canada who lives in Den­mark in­vited us to join him and yet an­other Cana­dian who was in town at his apart­ment to just hang out. The evening was straight out of the hygge play­book. Gather just the right num­ber of peo­ple around the ta­ble, light a few can­dles, set out snacks and wine. Oh, and when we’re not ex­chang­ing in­ter­est­ing ideas, it’s okay to just sit back and lis­ten to the sound of sleet pelt­ing against the win­dow­pane.

Wait a minute. I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced this sense of well-be­ing back home. As Cana­di­ans, we al­ready have all the hygge trap­pings, so maybe all we need to do is make time for more hyggelig mo­ments. Then, we might rise from our cur­rent place as sev­enth hap­pi­est na­tion in the world to, well, who knows how high?


Here in Canada, you’ll of­ten see folks walk­ing to their place of work car­ry­ing a take-out cup of cof­fee, no doubt to sip it at their desk. In Swe­den, cof­fee is more of a verb than a noun, and fika is akin to us say­ing “Let’s do cof­fee.” At least twice a day, Swedes fika, mean­ing they get to­gether with a few friends and en­joy a hot bev­er­age ac­com­pa­nied by a treat.

In Stock­holm, cafés abound with as­ton­ish­ing se­lec­tions of lit­tle cakes and cook­ies, pas­tries and the like. So sig­nif­i­cant is fika to the cul­ture that most work­places have fika rooms, a place you can set­tle in with co-work­ers to re­lax and chat. Cakes, brought from home and shared, are com­mon­place.

At first, then, it seems in­con­gru­ous that fika and lagom come from the same land. Chitchats and sweet treats seem deca­dent and out of sync with lagom, the Swedish ethos that touts moder­a­tion and means not too lit­tle, not too much, just the right amount.

Lagom, how­ever, isn’t about de­pri­va­tion but in­stead bal­anc­ing wants with needs. It can be ap­plied to ev­ery­thing from health and fit­ness to fi­nances, food, en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues and even per­son­al­ity traits – be con­fi­dent but not a brag­gart, for ex­am­ple.

In his new book, The Nordic Guide to Liv­ing 10 Years Longer: 10 Easy Tips for a Hap­pier, Health­ier Life, Dr. Ber­til Mark­lund, 71, in­tro­duces the con­cept of lagom as it ap­plies to liv­ing health­ier. For ex­am­ple, get­ting enough sunshine is among

In Swe­den, cof­fee is more of a verb than a noun, and fika is akin to us say­ing “Let’s do cof­fee”

the most im­por­tant things you can do to add years to your life but not too much sunshine, he stresses.

“It is im­por­tant to get 15 min­utes of sunshine every day from April to Septem­ber,” he says. This boosts the im­mune sys­tem and de­creases in­flam­ma­tion, which dam­ages cells in the brain and blood ves­sels. “From Oc­to­ber to March, es­pe­cially in mid­dle-age and on, it is im­per­a­tive to take vi­ta­min D sup­ple­ments.”

Weigh­ing just the right amount and sleep­ing and ex­er­cis­ing just the right amount can all in­crease the length and qual­ity of your life.

“You need to have 30 min­utes of ex­er­cise every day, which is not dif­fi­cult,” he says. “That will re­duce the risk of 30 or 40 dif­fer­ent kinds of dis­eases such as can­cers and car­dio-re­lated ill­ness.”

Al­though some of Mark­lund’s rec­om­men­da­tions are eas­ily doable, achiev­ing lagom can be a bit trick­ier when it comes to not work­ing too much or stress­ing out about the things we want but don’t have.

“The prob­lem with ex­cess is you have to do too much and buy too much to achieve it, which cre­ates stress and speeds up the ag­ing process. You can choose to have a high­speed life and risk the on­set of dis­eases or you can choose to slow down and be health­ier.”

To this end, lagom in­volves pri­or­i­tiz­ing things dif­fer­ently and learn­ing to feel more com­fort­able with your­self and who you are.

But by mid-life and beyond, is it too late to change? Not in terms of be­hav­iour – of course, we can – but will our bod­ies re­pair?

“It’s never too late to start be­cause the same day you make a change you have an ef­fect on your blood sugar level, your in­sulin level de­creases and the ag­ing process slows down too.”

All of this is very good news, of course, but some­how lagom doesn’t seem as much fun as hygge, and I tell the good doc­tor so.

“Lagom isn’t bor­ing,” he laughs. “You’re just choos­ing to be the best you can be. It’s fun to be healthy, to laugh and smile and en­joy your­self. It will give you seven ex­tra years. Re­search shows the en­dor­phins pro­duced are very good for you and that one of the best things you can do is sing in a choir!”

Hallelujah, I think. And let’s re­joice that both hygge and lagom en­cour­age wine. Mind you, one or two glasses a day is lagom, and hygge cer­tainly re­quires that you be men­tally present.

In­ter­est­ingly, on the train ride be­tween Copen­hagen and Stock­holm, Sa­man­tha and I sat across from a man in his late 40s who was born and raised in south­ern Den­mark but had moved to Swe­den a decade ear­lier. When we told him about how Scan­di­na­vian lifestyle trends are huge in North Amer­ica, he seemed put off by the no­tion that folks were buy­ing books about the sub­jects.

“You can’t learn hygge and you cer­tainly can’t plan it,” he said. “That would ruin it. Hygge just hap­pens. It’s like sex. If I call my wife and say let’s have sex tonight at 8:05 p.m., that would wreck it, right?”

He seemed to ex­pect an an­swer, and my daugh­ter shot me a look.

“Okay,” I said mov­ing the con­ver­sa­tion along. “What about lagom then? What do you –“

“You’re pro­nounc­ing it wrong. It’s lar-gom.” “Lar …gom.” “No ‘r’.” “But you –““Lahr … gom.” Even­tu­ally, our train com­pan­ion warmed up to the con­ver­sa­tion and of­fered valu­able in­sights. But we won­dered after­ward if his ini­tial ret­i­cence came from a sense of dis­be­lief that such an en­trenched part of one’s na­tional iden­tity can be ex­ported. Could there be how-to tomes ded­i­cated to be­ing Cana­dian that teach peo­ple how to be in­nately po­lite, say? Per­haps not, but surely the world wouldn’t be worse for try­ing. And surely, there’s no harm in try­ing to in­cor­po­rate a few Scandi lessons that in­volve slow­ing down and en­joy­ing time with fam­ily and friends. In fact, it might be good to cre­ate a few more idyl­lic mo­ments – you know, like win­dow dis­plays, only in real life.

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