So would you live Danishly for a year?
Fact: Denmark regularly tops the polls as one of the happiest place on earth to live. (According to the UN World Happiness Report. It topped the UK Office for National Statistics’ list of the world’s happiest nations and the European Commission’s wellbeing and happiness index.)
What is the meaning of Hygee? -‘In Danish, hygge (pronounced “HUE-gah”) is one such word. Though there are many ways to describe hygge, we see it simply as the Danish ritual of enjoying life’s simple pleasures. Friends. Family. Graciousness.’
The Book – The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country by Helen Russell
Me and my mum had discussed this book earlier in the year, and she went onto buy it for my brother as a birthday present. The impatient Poppy in me couldn’t wait for the hand-me-down book so instead I went straight home and ordered myself a copy on Amazon. As life goes it ended up being months before I actually got around to reading the book – a recent trip to Spain (a last minute holiday with the plan purely to do absolutely nothing – besides swimming, sunbathing and cocktails by the pool of course (My own Poppy-Hygee!)) finally allowed me the opportunity to finish the book, and I haven’t been able to stop talking about it since. Even M jumped on board and read it as soon as we got back from our trip!
The book is a great eye-opener into an alternative way to lead your life, it is the perfect read if you are feeling overworked, stressed and thinking ‘surely there has to be another way?‘ (Yep, we have all been there!). The book follows Helen Russell and her year-long adventure. She already had the dream job as a journalist for a fashion magazine, a lovely busy social life and lived and loved the hustle & bustle that is LONDON. Helen gives this all up to let her husband follow his dream when he is offered the job of a lifetime at LEGO (the ultimate job for a man who has loved Lego his whole life). There is only one problem…the job opportunity is at the Lego headquarters in remote Jutland, Denmark. After much deliberation and research, Helen discoverers that Denmark, and Jutland in particular, regularly tops the UN’s survey for the happiest places to live in the world year-on-year, based on standards of health, welfare and education. And so the idea of the book was formed. The book is Helen’s journey, a combination of her experiences of her time there and incorporating interviews with experts, expats, and people she meets along the way, with the mission to work out…what truly makes people happy? (Everyone she meets says they are an 8 out of 10+ in terms of happiness!)
Hygee – This is a word that is repeated a lot in the book and is the describes the ‘simple pleasures and that cosy feeling’. Inspired by the long and harsh winters in Denmark, Hygee is a mindset that can be achievedby (and this is probably not an exhaustive list) making your home as comfortable, snug and cosy as possible, surrounding yourself with candles, good food, good lighting, wood fires and most importantly friends and family (critically, don’t forget the coffee and wine too!*)As there can be months where there is very little daylight and it can be bitterly cold, the Danes choose to stay in, to hibernate almost, but doing it in style and surrounded with their loved ones. Simply, to ‘get Hygee’.
I hear a lot of people on the train and in town moaning about either not having enough time to see people, to go out, to join the gym or to go on holiday. I too have fallen into this habit; we put things off for a month, a year and sometimes it can feel like we are just waiting for it all to start. This book puts a fantastic new perspective on trying to find a better work / life balance, the importance of having a hobby and the overpowering sense that you do not have to just learn one career or skill at 18 and that is it for the rest of your life – in Denmark, things are different.
People in Denmark may change their career 2,3 or 10 times in their life and their Government helps and encourages them to keep learning and not feel restricted to one area. Helen describes how her husband’s bosses at Lego (and actually co-workers too) frown upon people who work past their standard hours (poor time management!), and of course both women and men are expected to pick their children up from work, hence the standard working week is around 34/35 hours. By this point in the book I am grinning like a maniac and have mentally packed my bags, booked a plane ticket and planned to max out my credit card at the nearest Yankee candle store!
Daydreams aside, I haven’t booked a one-way ticket to Jutland (just yet), nor am I completely convinced that it is the most perfect place in the world (it’s all relative, right?), but this book from Helen’s experiences and the experts she meets along the way has definitely opened my eyes and forced me to take a breath. I have started to look at my life and make small changes that I believe will ultimately make me happier; they include regularly spending more time with my family and M, having more ‘me’ time (dreaming of an hour long bath but knowing in reality they only last 15 minutes because I can’t stand the heat!) and making time to finish the next book and planning future trips.
This book was exactly what I needed when I was feeling stuck in a rut; sometimes we just want to scream because it feels like everything is going at a million miles an hour. But, according to Helen and nearly 6 million Danish people, it doesn’t have to always be that way.
*Plus don’t even get me started on the pastries – Helen describes the daily Danish pastries she consumes which practically left me drooling and running out to my local shop. Apparently, Helen was told by a Danish local that one to two pastries a week was probably the usual – not one a day. Ignore him Helen – It’s Hygee, right?
What books are you loving this month?