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A Skeptical Midwesterner’s Take On The Little Book of Hygge

Photo courtesy of Penguin Books.


–By Marie Taylor

Because life has been a little crazy lately, I decided to slow things down and read Meik Wiking’s The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living, published by HarperCollins in 2017. Written by the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute (yes, that’s a real place) in Copenhagen, Denmark, the book looks at the Danish idea of “Hygge” (pronounced Hoo-Ga), which is a concept that Wiking attributes to the Danes happiness.

I loved reading this book, especially during work breaks, which is generally the most stressful part of my day. Wiking breaks down the simple, yet satisfying, elements of hygge to help shed light on why the Danes seem so happy despite their chilly environment and high taxes. He admits that a lot of it can be attributed to free healthcare, good paternity and maternity leave, and a healthy devotion to work/life balance, but the one element that makes Danes truly unique in their happiness is their obsession with hygge.

Getting into the nitty gritty of what hygge is, I learn that while there is no true English definition for hygge that can sum up its different facets, hygge is finding contentment and coziness (although those words don’t do it justice) in everyday things. If you’re still confused by that statement, don’t worry, because Wiking does a much better job of humorously breaking down the concept of hygge to non-Danes. Looking at this from an American perspective, I now view hygge as making the most of your environment and finding happiness in the little things.

Photo of Meik Wiking, courtesy of Penguin Books.

While the concept of hygge is not solely enjoyed by the Danes, the author breaks down what specific practices or things Danes do to hygge the crap out of everything. Think of this book as not just your guide to hygge, but your guide to Danish culture. I was a skeptical participant in this Danish immersion therapy, but I will say that I came out the other side with a better understanding of what I could do to find happiness in the everyday things.

Even if you’re not ready to drink the hygge Koolaid, I still urge you to read this book. Wiking offers a humorous spin on almost everything, and even the most cynical reader can find something to laugh at. Give you a snippet of the humor you’ll find, here are some of my favorites.

On Danes dressing in black:

“Once you get out of Copenhagen airport, you may think you have walked onto the set of a ninja movie.” Page 84.

On decorating your home for the ultimate hygge experience:

“Basically, you want to think: How would a Viking squirrel decorate a living room?” Page 101.

It’s gems like these, plus more, that you’ll find in the pages of this book.

With all that said, I don’t think that this book will be for everyone, especially those of us in the U.S. that look at the public programs of Danes with envy. The U.S. is a disjointed society, with such different expectations and ways of living stretched across a landscape that varies from state to state. Unlike the Danes, we don’t see ourselves as a collective society reaching for the same goals.

As someone who lives in the Midwest, which is a very large and complicated place, I look at the values of the Danes as something to aspire to. Hygge may not seem like the be-all-end-all for us, we are different from the Danes in many ways, but there’s nothing wrong with looking at hygge and seeing how it can best affect your life.

This book made me feel like putting on cozy slippers, bundling up in a fuzzy blanket, and simply relaxing while I enjoyed a Fall sunset. The author’s tone was exactly the right amount of humorous and informative, and the illustrations in each chapter are beautifully designed with Denmark in mind. If you’re feeling stressed out and frazzled from life, take time to read this book and learn about the hygge lifestyle. This book already feels like an old friend that I’ll hang out with again very soon, and you can be sure I’ll be wearing those cozy slippers when I do it.

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