Hygge – a pretty but impractical guide to everyday happiness

Ever since the Danish concept of hygge became popularised the last year, I have been intrigued by the various books pilled high in Waterstones on this interesting little word. Hygge is a Danish word that cannot be translated into English, but it can be understood as something like contentment or daily happiness. At first I thought it meant having some kind of epiphany every day of why you are so grateful for your life and everything in it. Although this would be lovely and very humbling, it sounded a little unrealistic, becoming one of those things that many people force themselves to perform in an attempt to reach something like inner peace, but in doing so defeats the nature of it entirely. Turns out hygge is much more simple than that.

In her book Hygge: The Danish Art of Happiness, Marie Tourell Soderbergh describes hygge as the ‘small moments money cannot buy you, finding the magic in the ordinary’. I like this definition of hygge. After reading numerous articles on how to find hygge or how to create it in your life (the general advice seems to be to develop an addiction to lighting candles) Soderbergh’s definition seemed a bit more realistic.

The book itself is a bit of a stylish, Scandi deco scrapbook of different sources of hygge from different Danes. It has interviews with friends and family about what hygge means to them, snippets from Scandi interior designers on what hygge looks like in the home, as well as quotes from psychoanalysts and narrative therapists on what it means culturally and a few very hyggelig recipes wedged in the middle of the book for good measure.

Although I found that this very stylish looking scrapbook gave me a much greater understanding of what hygge means from the variety of sources,  I was a little disappointed when I opened the book as I wasn’t in a mood to read a sparse cook book. There is a limited quantity of text on each page neatly framed by an unneeded amount of white paper. One paragraph is all that takes up many of the pages, with other pages being taken up by pretty, unneeded pictures.  This made me wonder whether the book is overpriced for what you actually get content wise if you buy it for actually use not just because it is a pretty book.

What I did like was reading the quotes from the individuals about how they create hygge in their own lives. Soderbergh gives us brief examples of what hygge means to her: walking with her sister, spending time with her partner and the like.  This list, as well as the words from real everyday people about how they hygge in their own lives, gave me a much better idea of how to find hygge for myself. For a start, writing a small list of things that I enjoy and find comfort in on a daily basis goes a long way to finding out how to make sure each day has hygge in by including these activities daily. Your favourite holiday destination that you only go to every year or so wouldn’t make the cut. It is about the little things you take pleasure and comfort in. They might be private things, or time spent with others, or a combination of both. In this light, hygge seems a much more reachable and attractive daily goal than inner peace and eternal gratitude. I think the book needed to have much more from these individual voices; although the recipes and interior design pictures were charming, it was these sections from individual, normal people that made me reflect on my own life as to what it is each day that I enjoy.

Although I feel like I understand hygge better now after reading Soderbergh’s Hygge than after all the online articles I’ve read on the subject, the book felt very padded out by plank space and pretty,  unremarkable pictures. The fact I read it in one night made it feel a bit of a disappointing investment in terms of economics. But hygge to a degree is something we have in our lives already, it isn’t something to be created or bought. Searching for it in a book, regardless of how extensive its contents is, can almost be guarenteed to be a futile attempt, as hygge is something you can identify and make time for without spending a penny. It is too individual for a book to give you the answer. It is something you must work out yourself. Alternatively, immigrating to Denmark is also a suggestible alternative.

 

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