Hygge: Secrets of Nordic Living
Know Hygge? To cut through the social media hype, we spoke to an actual ‘hygge-er’, to find out if there’s more to this than cosy socks and mugs of cocoa.
What is Hygge really, and how can we adopt a little for our wellbeing? Neom speaks with Signe Johansen, author of ‘How to Hygge: Secrets of Nordic Living’
- In three words, could you sum up what Hygge means? We’ve all heard the buzz word but what is it really?
- Hygge’s a feeling of contentment, cosiness, conviviality…. In fact hygge is actually the modern word for the old Norse ‘hyggja’ which means “to think” or “to be” and that’s often overlooked in the hygge hysteria features we’ve seen in the press of late.
Contrary to much of the press about the subject of late, hygge is not just cosy images of slippers, candles and lots of cake. Those are all wonderful things, but you would go insane if you lived in a state of sloth-like hygge hibernation. It’s also about the tradition of community, of chipping in and working together for a common cause.
The point is, a modern approach to hygge is also about stepping back from the frenetic pace of life and savouring the simple things, in the company of others…hygge isn’t something you can buy.
- Tell us about your background and how you came to write a book about Hygge?
- In short, it started when I started writing about food after I met my mentor - and now friend - Fiona Beckett (the Guardian’s drinks columnist).
I became interested in all things Nordic Noir (Brits watching Danish crime and political dramas on Saturday nights! With subtitles! Who knew?) and suddenly everything Scandi and Nordic seemed to resonate here: whether it was design, fashion, food, film or the way people live in the region. Multiple surveys were published declaring people in the frozen North to be the happiest in the world! …I know, it sounds like the boasting of a smug Scandi right?
But these are quantifiable facts, and the anthropologist in me was curious. What’s going on here? Why do people live so well? There’s lots of data to support the assertion that the Nordic countries have the highest quality of life in the world, but no one was really looking at this from a cultural perspective. Hygge’s a big part of it so I pitched the book idea to publishers: a fun, light-hearted and practical look at the region. Nothing too earnest or worthy. No boring graphs and data analysis! Just the kind of book that is visually enticing, hopefully a little inspiring and that explains the culture of living in the region…plus with 50 recipes to give you something to chew on. Who could resist that?
- Why do you think there has been a recent surge in the power of Hygge in the UK?
- In my experience people are getting tired of the asceticism of “clean” eating and living. They want to live a little. But more to the point, 2016 has been a year of uncertainty. Things that happen which are largely out of our control, seems to make us want to look at the way we live, to start taking care of ourselves.
With such a frenetic pace of life, Hygge also resonates with those in the midst of this. We all need a buffer against the swirling winds we see daily, and that first line of defence has to start with how we live, the priorities we make.
I’m biased of course, but having a hyggelig time is really important right now - we need it.
- Why do you think we could all use a little Hygge in our lives?
- We all have it, you just don’t have a word for it. It’s obvious, but we all benefit from looking after ourselves, from taking comfort in the company of others and making the most of our lives. Whether that’s just being a little friendlier with your neighbours, having impromptu gatherings throughout winter or simply being kind to yourself, and to others. Hygge is what you make of it. If it means just sitting down in the morning and taking the time to have a proper breakfast, or taking a brisk walk to clear your head during the day then that’s all you need. That’s hyggelig! We Nordics don’t believe in dwelling, we still have to live our lives as best we can.
- If there was one small step we could all do today which would bring a little Hygge into our lives, what would that be?
- Nurture yourself. That sounds mundane, what I mean is look after your mind, your body, and others around you. Try to avoid getting swept up in the many lifestyle fads - and resist the idea that hygge is a form of surrender, a way of retreating from the world in a cosy cocoon of crackling fireplaces, woollen socks and endless mugs of hot cocoa. It’s about not giving up and understanding the value of looking after ourselves. It builds resilience.
- How important do you think it is to fully switch off?
- In our digitally wired age, it’s one of the most important things we can do, and it’s deeply restorative. We definitely reap the rewards of a “digital detox”, switching off from the relentless pressure of work, trying to achieve everything, having it all (what does that even mean?!) - it’s so vital to reset, to calm your mind and to step back from everything. Learning how to manage the incredible technology we now have is an essential life skill.
- Can you tell us your top 3 ways to get a little Hygge into your life (indoor) and the top 3 for outdoors too?
- Indoors: Cooking, a few Nordic design classics, investing in good materials: tactile textiles, a variety of lighting (and yes, that includes candles!), books, I mean anything goes. The main thing is to create a space in which you feel content and you like spending time in.
Outdoors: Long walks but don’t be afraid to try something new. Spend more time in nature, science has proven it has manifold effects on our psychological wellbeing. Why not, pack a small thermos with your favourite drink too?
- What will your Christmas day look like? Anything key in there which we can all do to bring a little Hygge into our lives?
- It always amazes me how stressed people get about Christmas. I find the best thing is to plan and practice a little in advance, don’t be too hard on yourself: buy in certain things, no one’s going to judge you if you make smart compromises (if they do, then consider uninviting them next year?) But that’s easy for me to say as I’m feeling super smug about Christmas - I’m not cooking this year!
- What’s your take on new years resolutions? A fad? Do you make them?
- Never been a believer in new years resolutions. Invariably you start the year with noble intentions and then get frustrated when you can’t keep up whatever resolution you’ve made. I’ve tried to incorporate more sustainable habits into my life. Like not making resolutions, and sticking to that resolution.