Thursday 15 September 2016

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking

Book review: The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking · Lisa Hjalt

Last weekend I got a copy of The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well, which explains the Danish concept of 'hygge'. The author is Meik Wiking from The Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, whose job it is to research what makes people happy. It's published by Penguin and comes in a neat format, not too big, which makes it quite thick, 288 pages. It's readable and fun and beautifully designed, filled with photographs and illustrations of Scandinavian motifs. Wiking thoroughly explains the idea of hygge and how the Danes, the happiest nation according to studies, know the art of creating an intimate atmosphere. He uses researches and charts to support his case, but the book never feels dry or academic. He strikes a balance between facts and figures with a flowing, light, and often humorous text.

Before sitting down to tell you about the book it felt fitting to create an atmosphere of hygge. I made hot chocolate and a delicious bread roll before lighting the fireplace.
The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking · Lisa Hjalt

For an Icelander the concept of hygge isn't unfamiliar. Danish culture is similar to ours and we learn the language at school (or any other Nordic language of choice). In Iceland we would probably use the word cosy to explain hygge but it doesn't quite grasp the idea. This is the way Wiking explains it:
Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down. (p. 6)
Most Danes connect hygge with autumn and winter but the warmer months aren't excluded from hygge. I found it interesting that Wiking compares the Danes with the Dutch, who have a similar concept called 'gezelligheid'. The difference, however, is that the majority of the Dutch associate it with going out, to a café or a bar, while the majority of the Danes associates hygge with the feeling of home.

Having lived in Denmark, I have many fond memories. I also happen to have Danish ancestors: On one branch of my family tree is a Danish great-grandmother and on another branch is a great-great-grandfather. I often notice that foreigners view Denmark as some kind of utopia and seem to think that it's free from the social problems other countries deal with. I was glad to see Wiking mentioning this view. When you live in Denmark you definitely become aware of a certain sense of community, which I cannot quite explain, and you realise that the welfare of its citizens is important.

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking · Lisa HjaltThe Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking · Lisa Hjalt

How do the Danes create hygge and what makes them happy? Wiking mentions many factors, such as cosy homes and togetherness, inviting friends over to enjoy food and drink. Candles and the correct lighting are very important - 85% Danes connect candles with hygge. The Christmas month is particularly hyggelig (adjective). I have lived in a few countries and it's my opinion that no other nation knows how to better create the perfect Christmas mood. Copenhagen is my dream city in December and nothing compares to strolling its cobblestone streets, seeing the candles in the windows and experiencing the ideal Christmas spirit. Wiking devotes a chapter to Christmas and when talking about the food he mentions risalamande, which is one of our Christmas traditions. I have already shared the recipe of this Danish rice and almond pudding with cherry sauce on the blog.

One thing in the book caught my attention because it's something I have often thought about. Wiking refers to a survey that shows gratitude having an impact on happiness. The results show that being grateful not only increases happiness, but also makes us more helpful, more forgiving, and less materialistic (p. 280). This is what Wiking has to say about hygge and gratitude:
Hygge may help us to be grateful for the everyday because it is all about savouring simple pleasures. Hygge is making the most of the moment, but hygge is also a way of planning for and preserving happiness. Danes plan for hyggelige times and reminisce about them afterwards. (p. 281)
Book review: The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking · Lisa Hjalt

During the reading I was convinced that my daily life has hygge in abundance - perhaps it's in my blood - but if I have to mention one thing that I do every day it would be enjoying a cup of quality coffee and reading a book. Each time my choice of hygge-corner in the house simply depends on my mood.

If you feel that you need hygge in you life I highly recommend getting a copy of this book. It's full of ideas.

The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well
By Meik Wiking
Penguin Life
Hardcover, 288 pages, illustrated


  1. The cover and the description seem very inviting! It has the feel of a book to ask as a present for Christmas. :-) What is the proportion of photos to the text? And would you say the photos are in your taste (which I trust :-))?

    1. There are photos or drawings on every spread. The reason I didn't talk about the photos is that they are both stockphotos and Wiking's own. The quality of them varies but they all reflect the hygge mood, you know, coffee and tea cups, someone in pyjama bottoms drinking hot chocolate by the fire, etc.


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