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The Little Book of Hygge

The Danish Way to Live Well

By Meik Wiking
10-minute read
Audio available
The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking

Different countries, like different people, have different personalities. Some are more upbeat; some are more downcast. Out of all the countries in the world, Denmark is often rated as the happiest. And that’s because Denmark has hygge. The Little Book of Hygge (2016) explains this concept in full and offers tips on how you can achieve it, too – wherever you live.

  • Happiness seekers who want to appreciate the simple things in life
  • Readers interested in cultural differences and similarities
  • Anyone looking for ways to stay happy when it’s raining outside

Meik Wiking is CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, in Copenhagen. After studying politics and business, he became interested in well-being and quality of life. He has written several books and gives public lectures around the world on these topics.

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The Little Book of Hygge

The Danish Way to Live Well

By Meik Wiking
  • Read in 10 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 6 key ideas
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The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking
Synopsis

Different countries, like different people, have different personalities. Some are more upbeat; some are more downcast. Out of all the countries in the world, Denmark is often rated as the happiest. And that’s because Denmark has hygge. The Little Book of Hygge (2016) explains this concept in full and offers tips on how you can achieve it, too – wherever you live.

Key idea 1 of 6

Hygge is a key but difficult-to-translate concept for understanding the Danish way of life.

If you look up hygge in a Danish-English dictionary, the definition you’re most likely to find is “coziness.” The word conjures up ideas of intimacy or images of candlelight or hot cocoa by the fire. But it means a whole lot more than that.

Lately, hygge has gotten some hype. But what’s caused this?

Well, Denmark is regularly ranked among the happiest nations in the world. In 2013 and 2016, it ranked first in the World Happiness Report and, in 2015, it came in third.

To outsiders this seems very odd. Denmark’s weather is predominantly gray and its taxes are phenomenally high. There aren’t even any vast expanses of wilderness where you can escape to.

So why is it such a content and happy country? There are two explanations. The first is obvious: those high taxes pay for a generous welfare state. The second is less so, and it hinges on that amorphous concept – hygge.

The word first appears in written Danish in the early 1800s. It’s a word imported from Norwegian originally meaning “well-being.”

But this definition gets us only so far. Nor does the modern translation of “coziness” quite do the trick. Hygge has to be experienced. It is, in short, a feeling.

There are similar concepts in other countries, too. The Germans have Gemütlichkeit, the Dutch gezelligheid and the Canadians hominess – each term an encapsulation of a sort of hearthside at-homeness. But no culture goes so far as the Danes. For them, hygge is central to the conception of self.

The notion is so embedded in Danish culture that they even have an adjective – hyggelig – to describe something that either has hygge or can nurture hygge. Imagine a particularly snug café. It doesn’t matter that the coffee is less than decent or that you have to go out of your way to get there; you like the place because it’s hyggelig.

There’s even a verb! If you were planning to spend an afternoon at this café, you might invite a friend to come and hygge with you.

So how can you co-opt this defining feature of Danish identity and culture?

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