Book Review: The Little Book of Hygge

Have you ever heard of hygge? (That’s hoo-ga.)

For a long time, I hadn’t. I saw this book on an Instagram account I follow a few months ago, and I was intrigued. Danish people are said to be some of the happiest in the world, and I’d love to know why. So I requested this book through my library – I was 36th on the list, with it being a recent release and all. Months later, I finally got my hands on it!

So what is hygge? It doesn’t have an exact English translation, but we all know hygge when we feel it. It’s that feeling you get when you’re surrounded by loved ones, able to enjoy each other’s company. When you’re snuggled in a blanket with your dog, reading a book when there’s rain outside. It’s that feeling of warm, hominess, comfort. We all know it, even if we don’t have a word for it.

This book is a basic introduction to hygge. From definitions, to comparisons to somewhat similar concepts from other countries, it begins with a good intro to help you figure out exactly what hygge is. It then goes into the elements of hygge, such as light (candles!), texture, sound (or more often, the absence of sounds, allowing us to enjoy natural noises like raindrops, wind, etc.), and taste (food! all the food!).

(And don’t forget the cake, which is ultra hyggeligt.)

The best part about hygge is that it doesn’t have to be expensive, and typically, it shouldn’t be. It’s all about slowing down and enjoying life, and taking the time to do so. Things like playing board games, cooking (the longer it takes, the better), camping with friends, etc. It’s also about sharing the workload — so instead of slaving over a hot stove for hours by yourself to prepare a meal for your friends, have them each bring a dish, or ingredients to cook together. The burden is no one’s alone, and all get to share in the enjoyment and the hygge.

“Hygge can be tasted, heard, smelled, touched and seen. But, most important, hygge is felt.”

I had a few hygge moments recently myself. My husband and I went away for a weekend, staying at a bed and breakfast on Cayuga Lake. It was lovely, for so many reasons. The night we were there, the bed and breakfast hosted a wine & cheese hour where anyone staying there was welcome to join them in the living room. It was simple: a glass of wine, some cheese and crackers, and a room full of strangers, all making conversation and getting to know each other, if only for that hour. It was that sense of warmth (okay, maybe that had to do with the wine), and the connections we made, sitting around in a cozy, open circle. We were free to come and go as we pleased; it was definitely hygge.

We loved them [these activities] when we were kids but for some reason we stop doing them when we become grown-ups. Adults are not supposed to play. We are supposed to stress, worry, and be too busy dealing with life’s problems…. One of our issues as adults is that we become too focused on the results of an activity. We work to earn money. We go to the gym to lose weight. We spend time with people to network and further our careers. What happened to doing something just because it’s fun?

Hygge can be achieved anytime, anywhere. The book focuses a chapter on Christmas – for which the preparations can be stressful and certainly not hygge, but the eventual gathering of friends and family is very hygge. But you can also have hygge in the summer (another chapter), at home anytime, or even at work. (The book includes a chapter on ways to make your workplace more hygge, too!)

I quite literally felt more at peace while reading this book, and I hope to take at least some pieces of it and apply them to my life going forward. Maybe you will too! In particular, I found this quote to be a nice way to sum things up:

“Life might seem stressful. It might seem unsafe and unfair. Life is often centered on money and social status. But life is none of these things in moments of hygge.”

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