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Book Review: The Little Book of Hygge - The Danish Way to Live Well, by Meik Wiking

Review by Andreya Platia, Trainee Clinical Librarian at Royal Lancaster Infirmary





Alongside 'Brexiteer', hygge was a contender for Word of the Year when it became the trending tagline to sell fluffy socks, woolly jumpers, candles and homeware to the British public in 2016.


In 2017, it won its place in the Oxford English Dictionary and five years later, was officially accepted as a point-scoring word in Scrabble.


So it's probably fair to say that hygge has been around for a while, even if we still haven’t managed to pronounce it.


At UHMBT, I wanted our library to keep a copy of at least one book on hygge. Not because I saw it as a trendy token addition to our staff Health & Wellbeing collection, but because I think we missed its meaning when the books initially hit the shelves.


According to Goodreads.com, there are around 57 titles related to hygge. And this book by Meik Wiking, was rated number one.


As we’re coming into spring and our fluffy socks and jumpers are put away in the drawers, it's time to cast off the hype and revisit hygge, dig a little deeper and find out why this book was crowned the top of the hygge reading list.


Like many books on this subject, readers are provided with pronunciation tips and a dictionary of compound words (including 'hyggebukser', a term that describes our favourite cosy pants that we would never go out in, but we’re secretly wearing during Teams meetings whenever we’re working from home because they’re so comfy).


There’s a section on lighting that’s so specific to brands of lamps that I wondered whether Meik Wiking has undeclared interests in Danish interior furnishing companies. And candles have been linked with creating hygge to the point that is almost cliché.


But I must admit, I did take a sneaky peek into residents’ apartments from my hotel room in Copenhagen a little while ago and saw people sitting down to candlelit breakfasts in the morning. They certainly weren’t for putting the ‘big light’ on (and Peter Kay might have a thing or two to say about that).


I skipped the instructions on how to dress like you're Danish. Then there’s the obligatory nod in the direction of cakes, pastries and hot drinks along with a selection of traditional Danish recipes and foraging tips.


I did attempt to make the Snobrød (traditional bread twisted around a stick and baked over a fire outside) but the dough dropped off the stick, extinguishing the flames and sending up hissing plumes of smoke. I’ll keep trying – Wiking did say somewhere among the pages that the hygge is in the process of doing something, not so much the end product.


There’s an irony to the way hygge is presented – embracing home-made, simple comforts while talking about expensive designer chairs and limited-edition vases. Is hygge something to be made or purchased?


But once we’re past the pricey shopping list to create your own brand of hygge, things get more interesting.


Firstly, there’s a sprinkling of simple neuroscience – the chemistry of hygge. It’s all down to rewarding dopamine hits and oxytocin triggering warm and fuzzy feelings.


Then there’s a clear message that validates, even values, introverts. Best to share comfortable silences with a chosen few of your nearest and dearest than superficially engage with large numbers of people.


Less is more. Less chatter, less small talk, less Facebook likes.


But the best part for me was Søndaghygge. Quite literally, “Sunday Hygge”. This is a gamechanger if you’re among the two-thirds of working Brits experiencing a nagging sense of dread and disturbed sleep before the start of the working week.


Making Sundays into a day of Hygge might be a welcome break from the 'Sunday Scaries'.


The World Happiness Report began publishing the annual rankings in 2012 when Denmark made the top place.


Nordic countries have largely dominated the highest positions, with Finland taking the lead for several years.


I’m not convinced that stylish chairs, a cinnamon bun and a few candles are the reason for that.


When we're bombarded with so much global anxiety and traumatic events happening across the world, attending to the things we can improve closer to home that offer a little self-soothing and a sense of connectedness to others is a good place to start.


Meik Wiking fails to state the most obvious point because he’s already doing it (albeit wearing a rather stylish scarf) – hygge is a habit, something to look for in everyday situations. It’s not a one-off purchase.


  • Staff at University Hospitals Morecambe Bay Trust can borrow this and many other wellbeing books in our collection.

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