Late in 2016 I came across an article touting hygge, pronounced “hoo-gah”, as the newest happiness trend that could help everyone make sense of a tough year. After reading about the candle-lit, warm-blanket, fuzzy-socked Danish tradition of getting cozy, I deemed myself a hygge natural and moved on.
Yet, that funny little word stuck with me. Nearly a year later, at the last Friends of the Library book sale of the year, I came across two books that would send by life spiraling towards a quest for supreme hygge. I learned that hygge is so much more than just getting cozy — it’s a mindset, a way to relate to others, and even a life goal.
I’ll freely admit that I plucked "The Year of Living Danishly" off the shelf because the beautiful blue cover caught my eye. As soon as I opened the book, that funny little “hygge” word jumped off the page and into my life again. Russell is a Brit who expatriates to Denmark for a year after her husband receives a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work for Lego.
She decides to use her year abroad figuring out why the Danes are so notoriously happy, but spends the first chapter of her book trying to figure out where the heck all the Danes are hiding. They are at home, she finds, getting hygge with friends and family.
Russell illustrates the material side of hygge — buy more blankets — but the best parts of this book come out of her hilarious life experiences as she adopts the Danish way of life. I finished this book with a better understanding of what makes a nation happy despite ridiculously high taxes and “soul-destroying” winter darkness.
Written by Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen (talk about street cred!), this book showed that hygge is so much more than a blanket or a warm fireside drink with friends. Hygge is really more of a feeling that you can experience anywhere.
Thanks to hygge, Danes can pass on that snooty, over-starched restaurant because a hyggelig noodle shop is preferred, and they can avoid that loud, boisterous party, because the small, informal gathering with close friends is so much more hygge. Wiking goes so far as to call hygge socializing for introverts. Where do I sign up and how do I get started?
After reading about the chapter “Light,” I found myself precariously perched on top of a ladder replacing all the “alien autopsy” LED lights in my home with warmer LED lights. It was a bit dangerous, but worth it to mimic the color temperature of candlelight and sunsets, which clock in at a very hygge 1,800-2,500 Kelvin.
The chapter “Home” compelled me to rearrange the house to accommodate a hyggekrog, or nook, perfect for curling up with a book and a drink. Speaking of drinks, in the name of science I took it upon myself to try Wiking’s recipe for glogg, a.k.a. mulled wine, to which I give the ultimate hygge seal of approval.
I was overjoyed to hear that you can hygge all year round. That cozy summer picnic? Super hygge. Taking a springtime stroll with a good friend? Hygge-rific! Curling up on the couch to watch a thunderstorm? That’s probably the most hygge of all, because all that danger outside makes you realize how safe and comfy you are inside.
Thanks to the library and the Friends of the Library book sale, my three month obsession with all things Danish and hygge led me to some interesting places. Here are some of my favorite gems:
Eat: " Cook Yourself Happy" — I dare you to try Fleming’s Kartoffelfad med Bonner, a.k.a. Bean and Potato Casserole, and not want to instantly slap on a pair of cozy socks. Her Hot Chocolate with Orange Syrup recipe isn’t too shabby either.
"The Year of Cozy" — While not written by a Dane, this book is the perfect intersection of DIY and hygge. The book, broken up by month, will have you cooking and crafting your way to hygge in no time.
Watch: Danish dramas are so dark! Make sure you watch these in the dead of winter with no ambient light or you won’t see a thing.
"The Bridge" — This dark drama about about a body found directly on the border between Sweden and Denmark will suck you in from the first scene. Wrap yourself in an extra cozy blanket for this one.
"The Killing" — AMC’s adaptation of a wildly popular Danish show is just as dark as The Bridge, but pulls much more adrenaline from the start.
Read: "The Book of Hygge" — An introduction to the philosophy behind hygge through quotes, proverbs, and deep explanation.
"The Almost Nearly Perfect People" by Michael Booth — For an examination on the dark side of all this happiness, Booth’s book provides just enough researched cynicism to get your head out of the clouds.
-Angela Thompson is the Friends of the Library program coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library.