Hygge – The Danish Way to Living Well by Meik Wiking kept me going through a particularly difficult week of the pandemic. With splendid photographs and a research-based look at what makes people truly happy, it was the perfect balm for a frazzled mind.
Denmark often ranks as the happiest country in the world and through the course of the book, Wiking explores how a Dane’s happiness is linked to a lifestyle deeply rooted in the concept of hygge. So, what exactly is hygge? Pronounced hyoo-guh, it is one of those magnificent, culturally rooted words, that evades direct translation. Perhaps, ‘Cosiness of the Soul’ is the description that is closest to this deep feeling of comfort bordering on the spiritual. And don’t we all want more of that comfort in our lives… Now more than ever.
Denmark is also not your average country. It is an affluent welfare State, with guaranteed healthcare, free university education and unemployment benefits, protecting its citizens against most uncertainties of life. It’s a country where people feel safe enough to leave their babies in their prams outside cafes. And this is where my cynicism sets in.
I live in a hot and dusty, third world country with its intense third world problems. ‘Cocoa by candlelight’ (another description for hygge) doesn’t quite cut it for me. All the same, there’s a faith in the idea that we can all ‘bloom from where we are planted’.
So I combed through the book again looking for clues. How can I bring some hygge into my life when my environment is so far-removed from the Danes’?
The first clue comes quite early on in the book. And well, nobody is saying that you can hygge if you are hungry. According to World Happiness Report commissioned by United Nations, “While basic living standards are essential for happiness, after the baseline has been met, happiness varies more with the quality of human relationships than income”.
This is quite heartening. No matter where we are, we can all have a small group of people to call our own. For some it’s their family. For others it’s a group of friends – more family than family. We can also build good work relationships too. Relationships give us a sense of acceptance and safety. A space to be our authentic selves, where we can bring both the finest and oddest parts of ourselves, and be truly accepted and loved. True belonging could be one of the most important keys to happiness anywhere in the world.
Happiness depends more on the quality of human relationships than income.”
THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE
If we think a Dane’s experience of hygge has everything to do with the luxuries of European life, we are wrong. In fact, in a way reminiscent of many Eastern cultures, bragging and flaunting designer items are considered to be in poor taste in Denmark. Instead, imagine rustic surroundings, cosy home-made stuff, warm lighting and good food; all in the company of people you love. Now we are getting the picture.
Humility is a key ingredient of the Hygge experience.
Humility and modesty are key ingredients of a hygge experience. You could be a monk in Tibet or a vegetable vendor in Puerto Rico (another country high up on the happiness list), yet this is one way of life that brings joy across the board.
There isn’t a place in the world where food is not an integral part of culture. The food on our plate might not have fancy names like Skibberlabskovs or Ableskiver, and we don’t need to switch to hot chocolate as our preferred beverage.
For most of us, our native food is our hygge food. So curl up with a plate of hot banana fritters and piping hot tea, or whatever you crave, and watch your favourite funny movie, laughing out loud with friends. Let’s keep the world at bay for some precious hygge hours.
BEING IN THE PRESENT MOMENT
I have done a lot of work on this by now. And it still isn’t any easier. The mind races, broods, worries. And in all that hornet’s buzz inside our heads, we lose sense of the great gift that this present moment is.
Life is always lived in the present moment. True purpose, passion, connection, salvation, all lies in this moment.
Breathe. Stay fully present to the people around you. Your kids telling you that story you only half understand, your spouse going on about something at their workplace which you understand nothing of; feel the breeze, listen to birdsong, bring all of you to this moment, and discover hygge.
FESTIVALS AND TRADITIONS
The most hygge festival of Denmark is probably Christmas, which brings warm glow and cheer to a long bleak winter. My country of diverse faiths celebrates countless festivals including Christmas.
At its heart, all those festivals are the same – bright colours, flowers, oil lamps, sweets, sumptuous feasts and family gatherings. The traditions attached to festivals brings us joy, and they root us in our cultures, even when we move far away from our homes.
At its heart, all festivals are the same
SPENDING TIME IN NATURE
Have you felt a weight leave your body as you take that first whiff of mountain air on a long drive? Your body calms down, Your mind goes still. And you come back with renewed energy; sometimes with fresh ideas to take on your life afresh. Blessed are all of us who find pockets of nature, still preserved, a short drive away.
Hygge is a feel-good book for sure. Meik Wiking sums up everything that helps the Danes live the happiest lives in the world,
in spite of their abysmally long, cold and dark winters – emphasizing each point with charming photographs that are a treat for eyes tired from watching too much news.
Candlelight and hot drinks warm up the Danes . We eat our fried spicy pakoras, drink our chai. And both the Danes and us chat and laugh with friends till our tummies ache. There’s more in common to human experience everywhere than what meets the eye.
Buy The Little Book of Hygge here
Photos Courtesy: Pexels, Unsplash