June 17, 2016
Hygge—the Danish art of enjoying the little things in life—is about to take bookshops by storm and could make you happier…
by Nikki Griffiths
When you think of Nordic literature, an image of dark, gloomy landscapes might spring to mind, as brought to violent life by the likes of Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbø. But a very different phenomenon is making its way across the seas: the much lighter and cosier idea of ‘hygge.’
Hygge (pronounced hue-ga) is a Danish concept. Broadly speaking, it’s all about enjoying life’s simple pleasures and embracing a feeling of wellbeing. Denmark’s official tourism site, VisitDenmark, offers a definition:
Hygge is as Danish as pork roast and cold beer and it goes far in illuminating the Danish soul. In essence, hygge means creating a nice, warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people around you. The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Friends and family—that’s hygge too. And let’s not forget the eating and drinking—preferably sitting around the table for hours on end discussing the big and small things in life. Perhaps the Danish idea of hygge explains why Danes are often considered the happiest people in the world?
Who wouldn’t want to adopt a bit of hygge into their life? And according to the Guardian, UK bookshops will be suffused with hygge this Christmas, inspired largely by the huge success of Lars Mytting’s Norwegian Wood. A book simply about the art of chopping and stacking wood, it was the surprise Christmas hit of 2015, winning the British Book Industry Award for Non-Fiction Book of the Year, and has sold just under 100,000 copies, according to Nielsen Bookscan.
Hot on its tail come a plethora of books about the general concept of hygge. Emily Robertson of Penguin, which is publishing Meik Wiking’s The Little Book of Hygge this September, spoke to the Guardian’s Alison Flood about the phenomenon:
Lifestyle publishing at the moment is all about deprivation and cutting things out, whether that’s food or exercise. Hygge is the complete opposite of that… It’s about embracing things, enjoying cake, and chocolate, spending time with friends and family. It’s about the little things and luxuries which make life great, about enjoying the happy moments which we perhaps miss. It’s basically the antithesis to everything that’s been happening in lifestyle publishing so far.
And Penguin is not the only publisher jumping on the bandwagon this autumn: Louisa Thomsen Brits’s The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Well is forthcoming from Ebury Press in August, followed in September by Charlotte Abrahams’s Hygge: A Celebration of Simple Pleasures, as well as Jonny Jackson & Elias Larsen’s The Art of Hygge: How to Bring Danish Cosiness Into Your Life, from Orion and Summersdale, respectively. Bluebird plans to bring up the rear in October with Signe Johansen’s How to Hygge: The Secrets of Nordic Living.
British Ambassador to Denmark Vivien Life, who got a crash course in hygge when she took the position in 2012, told the Telegraph’s Helen Russell, “Brits already get hygge to an extent… think country pubs with roaring fires. We just don’t have a name for it.”
Of course, some publishers, while noting the Nordic countries’ high standards of living, have wondered whether some big things might factor in, alongside the little ones. Still, it does seem that a little more hygge in all of our lives might improve our health and make us happier. I’ll just get the kettle on and put my feet up…
Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.