From Scandinavia with love. The latest Nordic lifestyle trend is an antidote to, well, our lifestyle.
I'm standing in front of the iconic home furnishings store, Illums Bolighus, in Copenhagen, transfixed by the window display. I know little about Danish design so it's not that which holds me but instead the slice-of-life scenario playing out behind the glass. Two faceless, wigless mannequins, clad in slippers and pajamas, seem to be gazing out and into the rainy street from their elegantly understated bedroom. Candles, knick-knacks and books stacked askew clutter nearby end tables, and minimalist lamps cast a golden hue suggesting it is mid-morning. From the unmade bed behind them, with its randomly scattered pillows and crumpled sheets and duvet, it appears the couple has just got up and is pondering whether they should stay up or go back to bed. So inviting is the scene that I find myself hoping they'll choose the latter so that I can crawl beneath the covers with them.
This is hygge at its finest, I realize, its pull so strong a middle-aged woman can find herself fantasizing about a non-conjugal ménage à trois with a pair of synthetic moulds.
In case you've just crawled out of a cave (which is perfectly fine so long as it was candlelit), hygge—pronounced hue-gah or hoo-gah—is the latest lifestyle craze, the subject of countless articles and more than two dozen books, all of which have hit the shelves during the past year—and counting. This fall, for example, will see the release of The Hygge Life: Embracing the Nordic Art of Coziness Through Recipes, Entertaining, Decorating, Simple Rituals, and Family Traditions.
Its usage was so high in Britain in 2016 that the word hygge was admitted to the Collins Dictionary along with Brexit and Trumpism. Collins describes it as: the practice of creating cosy, congenial environments that promote emotional well-being. It's hot beverages and knitted things, cosy nooks and comfort food, candles lit with wooden matches, never batteries. It's about bicycles with woven baskets, cushions, blankets and books. It's about a small group gathering at someone's home enjoying the pleasure of each other's company huddled around a hearth.
And it's hitting Canada hygge-style—not so much like a tsunami but more like a warm wave washing over us and sweeping us up and into a state of euro-phoria.
When I first heard about hygge, I didn't have to rush out and purchase the props. I'm Canadian after all and already possess mugs, sweaters, candles and most of the other trappings. So why then, when I surround myself with such belongings don't I experience overwhelming joy? Because although certain things promote hygge, it is a state of well-being achieved when you feel comfortable being yourself in the presence of people you love.
Hmph, I thought. Well, I love my daughter, Samantha, and she's working in Europe right now, so that's why I'm over here to meet up with her to experience hygge and a few other Scandi trends, firsthand.
According to Meik Wiking, the author of the best-selling The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well, hygge comes from a Norwegian word meaning well-being and first appeared in written Danish in the early 1800s. So the concept isn't new, just the attention surrounding it is. In part, the hoopla stems from the fact that Danes consistently place first or second in the UN World Happiness Report, a survey that ranks happiness levels in more than 150 countries. So, as Wiking says, since the report was first released in 2012, everyone from journalists to researchers to policymakers are studying the Danes to see what makes them so happy.
As a scientist and the CEO of the Happiness Institute in Copenhagen, an independent think-tank that focuses on happiness and quality of life, Wiking often wondered if hygge might be the secret of happiness. After all, it's practically founded in a Dane's DNA and practised by every Dane almost daily. And so he put hygge under a microscope, dissected it and then wrote about his findings.
Hygge poo-gah, say the skeptics. Denmark and the rest of the Scandinavian countries do well on happiness surveys because they live in welfare states with good wages, free university and cradle-to-grave health care. Sound familiar? Indeed health and income are among the seven factors measured in the World report so, certainly, financial stability and access to affordable health care weigh in.
"Our research shows that income and happiness are only related as long as you need money to make ends meet. After that, money isn't as important," Wiking states.
What is? Spending time with people you care about. In fact, says Wiking, a study that followed the same people for 75 years shows that the key to happiness is not fame and fortune but one's social relations, especially as we age and no longer have connections at work.
"We need to have relations with our family and with friends. And not just relations but deep and good relations."
The trick, then, is to create a life that fosters meaningful relationships and here's where hygge shines. Togetherness is a huge hygge deal. Although you can experience hygge alone—reading a book by candlelight beneath a cosy quilt, say—the most hyggelig times involve a small group of people, three or four being ideal. After that, the hygge manifesto includes turning the lights down and the cellphones off, breaking out the cookies and cakes, allowing equal time for everyone to speak within a conversation that ideally is void of high drama.
And then, there's gratitude. Take it in. This might be as good as it gets, Wiking writes.
Next: Home is where the hygge is...
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