How to Hygge: Exploring Nordic Secrets To A Happy Life

Hygge — that’s said hooga– is a word in Danish. There’s not a word in English that quite gets at its meaning. It is related to a Norwegian word meaning health and well being, but that’s not exactly it, either.

norway nature house hygge

Hygge is a feeling, a practice, an idea, comprising threads from community, connection, conviviality, reflection, and self sufficiency. There are elements of outdoor life, appreciation for home, solitude, friendship, and creativity all wrapped in it as well.

That’s a lot for one word, one concept. From all the good things connected to hygge, you might suppose it is an idea worth pursuing, though. One way to explore it is through Signe Johansen’s book called How to Hygge: Nordic Secrets to a Happy Life.

The basic ideas of hygge, Johansen explains, are simplicity, warmth, and care, for yourself and for others. “Nature sets the pace in the Nordic countries,” she writes. Indeed, getting out in nature is a part of inviting hygge into your life. Johansen loves sports (she has several funny stories to tell about that) but if you are not into sports or you live in the midst of a big city, talking a walk and noticing what aspects of the natural world surround you can still be ways to enjoy this.

fireplace cozy hygge

Relaxing by a fire with a good book is a classic experience of hygge (if there is such a thing — it’s rather individually defined). That is one way to experience nature, too, a joy for a cold or rainy day.

Being outside is important, too, though. In Nordic regions, Johansen points out, “rather than fight the elements we embrace the sharp contrasts of the seasons.”

Outdoors or in, knowing how to do one or two (or three) things with confidence is important too. This part of hygge is described as the spirit of self sufficiency. It is not that you have to go build a cabin in the wilderness (though that could be a way to express this), but rather that you might know how to paint a room, or teach a child, or chop wood, or play the guitar, or make a meal.

Making a meal is part of the self sufficiency aspect of hygge. It can also connect with the self care. relaxation, and convivial aspects of the idea. Johansen touches on all these aspects. A professional chef, she naturally includes a number of recipes. While some ingredients may be unfamiliar to those outside the Nordic lands (there’s a source list later in the book) none of the recipes is especially complex, which is also part of the idea. “Keep food simple,” she advises, “and focus on naturally nourishing foods that will sustain you. Slow down to eat: savor those moments during the day when you can enjoy a delicious meal.”

pastry scandinavia how to hygge

scandinavia cake how to hygge

Clean lines, simple design, and use of clear colors are part of Nordic life in clothing, home goods, and homekeeping. This sort of design can seem at rather spare. Johansen points out — and gives ideas on — ways that this minimalist aspect of culture is made inviting. Touches of bright, clear color and use of natural wood textures are two ways you may find easy to include in your own living spaces.

Taking care of yourself and sharing time with others are both part of hygge. Spending quiet time, savoring nature, enjoying the work of your hands and mind on your own are all part of hygge. So too, is the sharing of good food and good conversation, “taking pleasure in simple things together,” Johansen says.

Signe Johansen Norwegian American chef author

Lest this begin to sound as though Signe Johansen, a Norwegian-American writer and chef with degrees in anthropology and food studies from Cambridge and London, is handing down a lot of prescriptions as to what to do and how to live life — she’s not. She draws on personal anecdotes and stories, told with a light touch and an occasional dash of wit, to illustrate her points about hygge and the lifestyle it can engender. The narrative is clear and engaging. So too are the well chosen photographs.

landscape scandinavia How to Hygge

Hygge may take a bit of paying attention to things you hadn’t attended to before. It’s not meant to be complicated, though. Kindness, conviviality, appreciation of clear and simple things in the natural world, on the road, and at home: who couldn’t use more of that? Quite likely you will find you already have aspects of these practices in your life, and in ways you look at life when you travel, too. Upon reading How to Hygge you’ll have practical ideas about ways and places you might appreciate hygge and add it to your life, and bits of inspiration as to why you’d want to do that.You may also decide you’d like to travel to Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland to experience hygge in this part of the world first hand, too.

mug cozy hygge

You’ll know I often suggest music to go along with the stories I offer here. In the past I’ve introduced you to two of Denmark’s top folk musicians, composer Harald Haugaard and singer Helene Blum. Following the links to their names will help you learn more about their work. They tour internationally, and as they are married to each other, often together. An evening at one of their concerts will certainly give you moments of hygge to savor and share.

Danish musicians Harald Haugaard and Helen Blum

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