Hygge (“hoo-gah”). The art of building sanctuary and community, of inviting closeness and paying attention to what makes us feel open hearted and alive. To create well-being, connection and warmth. A feeling of belonging to the moment and to each other. Celebrating the everyday.
If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram you may have noticed my current obsession with all things Scandinavian, which has been partially inspired by a wonderful book called The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell. Their simple, contemporary design, focus on comfort and ABUNDANCE OF PASTRIES, makes it a very Claire-friendly nation. I was smitten by the first page.
At the beginning of her tale, Helen Russell is a glossy magazine editor living in London; fully immersed in the dawdler-despising big city but feeling somewhat dissatisfied. An opportunity arises when her husband is offered a job in dark, cold Denmark, so they pack up their London flat, don their winter warmers and hop on a plane, embarking on a year of learning, experimenting and fully embracing the art of Living Danishly.
I read about hygge and Helen’s first taste of a real Danish pastry while I was travelling to work with a fellow commuter’s crotch pressed against my forearm. I learned that in Denmark people clock off work at 4pm to spend time with their families. I learned that their citizens can voluntarily leave their job in search of a more fulfilling path and their government will pay them 90% of their salary for up to two years. I learned that people leave their babies outside restaurants while they eat because there is such a high level of trust in their fellow man. I learned that they embrace their long, sub-zero winters by lighting a lot of candles and snuggling up under blankets. I learned that I could really get on board with a Danish way of life.
But, unfortunately (in some ways) I live in London. And can one really live Danishly in London? When you get a badge of honour for staying at your desk till 9pm or answering an email at midnight on a Friday.
Even though we don’t have the same social security or levels of trust (because, let’s be honest, if I left my bike unlocked and turned around to tie my shoelaces I would probably be wishing I had the insurance I decided I couldn’t afford), perhaps the Danish state-of-mind is something we can adopt. The art of hygge is what particularly interests me. It is, essentially, how I want to live my life, and it’s nice to have a word for it.
Embracing simplicity doesn’t make life duller, I don’t think, in fact stripping it back is actually about creating room for more. In the last few days I’ve visited three Scandinavian cafes – one Danish, one Swedish and one Norwegian – and what I noticed besides the spectacular coffee, baked goods and abundance of rye, was the atmosphere. It was like stepping out of a world where everyone is anxious and in a rush and saying yes to stopping. This was no Pret a Manger, where you get elbowed in the kidneys for taking too long to choose your baguette, this was somewhere you could go to relax and spend 4 hours over a cup of coffee with a friend.
I’ve decided to start trying to live a bit more Danishly in London, and, of course, along the way, I’m going to blog about it. I’ll invite friends round for hearty meals, I’ll light a multitude of candles and watch The Bridge with a steaming cup of tea, and I’ll try out all the Scandinavian cafes and restaurants that London has to offer.
I’m going to try and appreciate the now, the simple things and I’m not going to feel bad for wanting to lie on my sofa most of the time.