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27/08/2016

Hygge,What a funny word,Create a happy home, Prioritise your people, Celebrate the simple things , Reframe rainy days, secrets to happiness,The Danish secret to happiness, A nice cup of tea, some soft music and a good book, that would be very hyggeligt

Say hello to hygge: The Danish secret to happiness

It has been one of those years. From tragic terror attacks to the fiercely debated Brexit results and a seemingly endless celebrity death toll (David Bowie, Prince, Victoria Wood and Terry Wogan, to name just a few), is it any wonder a recent Telegraph headline asked: ‘Is 2016 really one of the worst years in history?

So it seems that the stream of new books on hygge – the wellness trend originating from the world’s happiest nation – couldn’t have come at a better time.

Pronounced ‘hoo-gah’, hygge is the Danish concept of living cosily and it’s set to be the biggest trend in publishing since Marie Kondo urged us all to discover the joys of decluttering.  

Charlotte Abrahams, author of one of the new books, Hygge: A Celebration of Simple Pleasures, Living the Danish Way (Trapeze, £20), explains: ‘I first came across hygge as an interior design concept to make your house look happy and cosy.

“What a funny word,” I thought, and started looking into it. Turns out, it dates back to the 18th century and is loosely connected to the English word hug.

'So really it’s about cherishing yourself, battening down the hatches and snuggling up. I discovered hygge is very much a part of Danish life, where they frequently come top in the world’s happiness polls.’

Indeed, despite its dreary weather, Denmark took the top spot on the United Nation’s World Happiness Report in 2012, 2013 and 2016 (it came third in 2015, behind Switzerland and Iceland).

Charlotte’s book is one of four being published on the subject this autumn, including The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking (the chief executive of Copenhagen’s Happiness Research Institute).

Emily Robertson, who is publishing the book at Penguin, says that the hygge trend is the antithesis of the clean-eating books that have dominated bestseller lists for months.

‘Hygge is about embracing things – enjoying cake, not checking work emails all weekend, spending time with friends and family. It’s about the simple, small pleasures that make life great, which perhaps sometimes pass us by.’  

Those ‘moments of hygge’ can be anything: a cup of coffee in front of the fire, cashmere bed socks, dinner with friends, eating ice cream, building sandcastles with your children, reading the Sunday papers, a dog asleep at your feet, hot chocolate or, of course, savouring a glass of red wine.

Hygge is the absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming

‘Spending time with family and loved ones is central to hygge, as is being fully focused on what you’re doing,’ explains Charlotte.

‘So rather than chatting to a friend on the phone while you tidy, focus just on talking. Multi-tasking isn’t very hygge.’ To embrace hygge is also to appreciate downtime.

‘When you’re sat on the sofa with a glass of wine watching TV, don’t feel bad that you’re not “doing” anything,’ urges Charlotte. ‘You are doing something: you’re hygge-ing.’  

Hygge was something writer Helen Russell had to learn when she moved from her hectic north London life to a sleepy rural town in Denmark in January 2013.

‘My husband got a new job at Lego [a hygge pastime if ever there was one], so I quit my job on a glossy magazine and agreed to give it a year,’ she says.

‘My friends and family thought I was mad, as I’m not somebody who enjoys change. I had no friends or family in Denmark and, at first, I tried to eat myself happier in all the local bakeries.

'But once the sugar crash subsided, I started to look around and realised that the Danish way of life had a lot to offer.’  

Her subsequent book, The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering The Secrets  of the World’s Happiest Country, is a testament to the calming influence of hygge – and a large part of the reason why, three-and-a-half years later, Helen her husband, and now their two-year-old son, are still living there.

‘I began to notice hygge all around me,’ says Helen. ‘It’s woven into the fabric of Danish society – there are candles flickering in every house, home-made cakes, freshly brewed coffee…

'There’s togetherness and this wonderful sense of being kind to yourself. The best explanation of hygge I’ve heard is, “the absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming”.’  

She’s come to appreciate the concept even more since having a toddler. ‘I collect my son from daycare at 4.30pm, which is the latest you can pick children up in Denmark – where nurturing is valued more highly than breadwinning – and then we have a tea party.

'That’s our little moment of hygge,’ she explains.  But, she insists that hygge doesn’t have to mean quiet time.

‘Now I have a child, life is busier, nosier and muddier. But hygge includes the concepts of sharing, togetherness and taking time out, which are wonderful things to teach children.’

‘What I love about hygge is that it doesn’t demand anything from you, nor does it want you to give anything up or try too hard,’ says Charlotte Abrahams. ‘It’s incredibly generous of spirit and this is what’s attracting people.’ People including us – bring on the era of hygge. 

How to live  Danishly, by Helen Russell

Celebrate the simple things 

Brew a fresh coffee and savour every sip. Eat that pastry. Stop and smell the roses in the otherwise dodgy supermarket bouquet. And, wait, is that a cloud in the shape of a Pokémon? *High-fives world*

Reframe rainy days

Weather forecast more Mordor than Maldives?  Make like the Danes and embrace the elements.  A rainy day? That’s the perfect excuse to curl up with a new book. Evenings getting chilly? All the more reason to invite friends over. Hygge enthusiasts find opportunity in the most miserable of long-range forecasts. 

Eat real food

Forget #eatclean. #Eathygge is about the kind of grub your granny would recognise (think big plates of meat and potatoes). Danes eat, properly, and don’t they look well on it? It’s 21 places behind the UK on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s obesity hit list. Hygge: 1, Yo-yo dieting: 0. 

Create a happy home

Danish homes are hygge havens – heavy on wood and leather, with tactile finishing touches such as sheepskin rugs over chairs and freshly plumped cushions.

Scientists at University College London found that looking at beautiful things makes  us happier by stimulating dopamine – Danes get a happy, hygge fix just by walking through the front door. Scandi-chic interiors: officially good for you.

Prioritise your people

Historically, the Vikings wouldn’t survive winter without help from family  and friends, and although today Denmark has JustEat and Netflix, there’s still a cultural emphasis on hygge togetherness.

Studies show that spending time with friends and family is key to staying happy and sane – so get the diary out and make a date with your gang.

Helen Russell is the author of ‘The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering The Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country’, published by Icon (£8.99)

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