The clocks have changed. Cue another glut of articles online about ‘hygge’. The unpronounceable Danish byword for cracking out the candles, cushions and cake. For getting your rest and relaxation on without feeling guilty about that mountain of hand-washing in the laundry basket. But is cosy hygge a concept that could translate to wet British terraced homes? Or frankly is it getting on your wick like feng shui?
Hygge hit my consciousness this summer when I picked up Helen Russell’s new book, A Year of Living Danishly (AYLD). Witty and well written, AYLD fed my Scandophile fascination ahead of the return of gruesome crime thrillers Beck and Arne Dahl. Contrary to the high body count on TV, we’re being repeatedly reminded that the Danes are the happiest nation in the world. Russell set out to see if this is really true, even in remotest ‘Sticksville’, and uncover why.
Her month-by-month memoir isn’t simply a tale of the highs and lows of living abroad. It’s an accessible journey into the intricacies of Danish society. At times bewildering (the flag laws). At other times enough to make you green with envy (the “Don’t put up with presenteeism” approach to work). Her exploration of Danish home life takes her to meet ordinary Danes and experts in the country’s inner workings, including Anne-Louise Sommer, Director of the Design Museum Denmark.
You’d be forgiven for assuming the Danish commitment to high quality design was born out of times of prosperity. Times when the middle classes had nothing better to spend their money on but soft furnishings and pot pourri. But, in fact, it was a product of the 1920’s recession. Sommer credits the government of the time with recognising the well-being benefits of aesthetically pleasing design. The Danish seem to have taken this approach beyond just their bricks and mortar. They’ve liberally applied it to the internal fabric of their homes and lives.
Can a girl who balks at a £20 price tag on a candle adopt the same approach? Maybe. The idea of fresh winter cushions and high-end floor lamps is particularly appealing. But it all feels like bourgeois extravagance as I load it into my virtual shopping basket. Hence our perfectly ample Ikea uplighters, both acquired second hand, live to shine for another day. Whilst my Amazon wishlist grows longer. Of course hygge isn’t just about buying homeware from Habitat. That’s fortunate given that nearly 15% of British 25-34 year olds still live with their parents (compared to just under 2% of their Danish peers) and many others rent soulless boxes they’re not allowed to paint.
Hygge is also about quality time with friends and loved ones during the long, dark winter nights. Danes work an average 34-5 hour week and their Swedish neighbours are moving to a 6-hour working day. This presumably frees up more time for our Scandinavian cousins to enjoy leisurely, rejuvenating candlelight suppers. Rather than hurriedly stuffing down ready meals during the slender time left between work and sleep. The British lifestyle doesn’t exactly look cut out for a bit of hygge in the bleak mid-winter.
But perhaps it’s our limited free time and high levels of renting that should incentivise us to invest in a little everyday hygge. Like good quality slippers rather than freezing your tootsies on the kitchen floor. Luxury flaked chocolate in a mug the size of your face. Yes there might even be a candle burning its little cinnamon wick away in the background. But it can be anything that lifts your spirits and warms your cockles that is hygge.
So today’s challenge is to find some hygge in your life and tell us what it is. Santa, you’ll find my ‘suggestions’ below:
Time for a change?
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