The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living

I was worried that this book on hygge (hoo-ga) by Meik Wiking would have me rushing out to buy things to make my home more cozy, tossing all my (newish) minimalist principles aside in the process. I actually found a lot of overlaps between hygge and minimalism, in the sense that the ultimate goal of both concepts is happiness.

Minimalism focuses on getting rid of clutter and things that distract us from what’s important in our lives. The idea is to spend more time, money, and energy on family, friends, hobbies, or other activities we value most, rather than the accumulation, storage, maintenance, and constant reorganization of a bunch of stuff. Hygge seems to be one part creating a cozy environment and two parts using said cozy environment to enjoy everyday moments and foster close relationships. Both have ideas on how to create physical spaces that are relaxing. But they’re also both more about realizing what truly makes life enjoyable and fulfilling.

While the book has tips on how to create a hygge atmosphere, the point isn’t to go out and buy a bunch of cozy things.  Instead it’s about creating a comfortable, relaxing, safe space for you and your guests to let your guard down and be present. Many of the items suggested are fairly cheap: candles, blankets, throw pillows, books, ceramic cups, vintage goods etc. However, it would be unhygge to go on a shopping binge, as apparently saving up for quality items and then waiting to buy said item to coincide with a special occasion is most hygge. I’m all for saving for large purchases, especially because the wait helps me figure out if it’s something I really want or if its a just a fleeting fancy. (Also a good way to prevent the clutter of impulse purchases.) But I’ve never thought of pairing the purchase date with an important milestone or occasion. I’m definitely going to try this in the future.

Although, I’ll admit after reading the first section on lighting I did go out and buy some light bulbs; carefully selecting ones with “warm” colored light. BUT this was already on my to-do list as a lamp and several bathroom bulbs had burned out a couple weeks ago. So I’ll chalk it up to great timing rather than encouragement to go buy a bunch of stuff. Luckily that was the extent of my urge to buy new things in order to hygge up the apartment.

Making six new candles on the other hand was directly related to reading this book. I like making my own candles. It’s easy, fun, and ensures I always get my favorite scent. But it’s not really cheaper than buying inexpensive candles at Target. Mostly this is because the essential oils for the fragrance is expensive. So I usually make one candle at a time and I try to wait awhile before buying more essential oils when I run out. I had a light bulb moment when I read about Danish people preferring unscented candles and burning five plus candles at once. Aha! If I don’t use oils, I can make all the candles! Thus my candle making binge, where I used up almost all the wax and wicks I had left. What is it like burning six candles at once in a small space? Pure decadence.

In fact, one of my key takeaways from this book was the benefit of appreciating the decadence of small ‘everyday’ luxuries. Whether savoring a warm cup of tea or a piece of nice chocolate, it boils down to being present in the moment and practicing gratitude for the little pleasures in life. So my husband, Andrew, and I are now having “hygge nights” where we light all the candles, get a nice cup of tea, read a good book, and enjoy the peaceful moment.

I also liked the emphasis on spending quality time with friends and family to develop close knit relationships. Wiking is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute which studies what makes people happy. He talks about how someone’s satisfaction with their social relationships is the highest indicator of their overall happiness and he describes some research that explains why this is. Wiking discusses how a big part of hygge is “togetherness” and its considered hygge to get together with small groups of friends in the home. The focus on close social relationships as part of hygge might explain why Danes are so happy.

I found interesting the section on how the concept of hygge and small group socialization is great for introverts because it’s less draining than activities with large groups. As an introvert myself, I do feel like I avoid certain social activities because just the thought of going is exhausting, even if I almost always have fun once I’m there. And I’m also not good at taking the initiative to plan things. I never think to invite a few friends over or plan some outing. I automatically look forward to my evening or weekend at home instead. So my new goal is to try taking the initiative to plan some low-key activities with friends. We’ll see if this goal lasts more than a week!

As my ramblings indicate, I found a lot of good nuggets in this book that may or may not make me happier, but were definitely interesting to consider. Since it’s such a short and interesting read, I strongly recommend it.

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