The Mindful Materialist
Book Review: 'The Little Book of Hygge' by Meik Wiking
Updated: Jul 7, 2020
'Hygge is about giving your responsible, stressed-out achiever adult a break. Relax. Just for a little while. It is about experiencing happiness in simple pleasures and knowing that everything is going to be ok.'
What makes you happy? Falling asleep in a warm bed with rain pitter-pattering on the roof? Having a joyful dog race towards you, wagging it’s tail and treating you like their best friend? Baking cookies just so you can eat some of the raw dough? Curling up with a book and a homemade blanket? Candles? Tea? Aesthetically pleasing lighting? For me, it’s all of these things. Especially combinations of them. They’re things which provide comfort, warmth, security and satisfaction. Cosiness. This is the essence of hygge.
Pronounced ‘hoo-guh’, this Danish concept dates back to when Denmark and Norway were one kingdom in the 1500s. The term derives from the Norwegian word hugge, which means ‘to embrace’ or ‘to hug’. In a country where the winters are long and dark, people tend to spend their lives indoors; so naturally, hygge is mainly associated with the indoors too. It’s all about being protected from the elements and fostering togetherness and a cosy atmosphere. When you get that warm and fuzzy feeling of contentment, then you know you’re in the presence of hygge, and it is this feeling which Wiking describes as being essential to Danish life in his 2016 book The Little Book of Hygge.
Wiking is the founder and CEO of the Happiness Research Institute (yes, that's a real thing) based in Copenhagen; a research facility which informs public policy makers on the causes and effects of human happiness. Their research promotes human happiness as a key indicator of a society's success, and helps governments implement policies which improve quality of life for their citizens. They publish annual happiness reports which rank countries on the happiness scale, with Denmark consistently ranking on or near the top.
In his book, Wiking suggests that the Danes' obsession with hygge may just be the reason for their consistently high rank on the happiness index. He argues that by finding joy in life's small details and by creating a hyggelig atmosphere, we can improve our happiness and the happiness of those around us. Hygge is a familiar feeling, and something we can all recognise when it happens, but what makes Wiking's book so fabulous is that it serves as a pseudo-guide for creating atmospheres where hygge can emerge. 'In many ways [hygge] is like a good hug — but without the physical contact,' he tells us, '[and] no recipe for hygge is complete without candles'. These little gems feel particularly relevant right now as we emerge from the lockdown restrictions implemented in the wake of COVID-19.
Wiking writes with such a personable tone and breaks down hygge step by step. The book is divided into chapters which outline the areas in our lives where hygge can be embraced; from food to clothes, lighting to furniture, across the seasons, indoors and outdoors. The book can be picked up and put down, and referred to as you wish. It contains pearls of wisdom and Wiking's own hyggelig memories and photographs. The book is also beautifully designed with illustrations and photographs throughout. Reading The Little Book of Hygge is a hygge-inducing activity in itself, and who wouldn't want to experience that?
Wiking, Meik.The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well. Penguin Life, 2016.
Photos by Elena McGannon