While “hygge” can’t be directly translated into English, chef and food writer Signe Johansen’s book, “How to Hygge: The Nordic Secrets” certainly helped me understand it’s Danish/Norwegian meaning.
With incredible skill, Johansen was able to explain what the word means through her illustrative stories of Nordic living, personal anecdotes, and historical references. Essentially, “hygge” is the idea (an idea that Nordic people have mastered) that a meaningful, happy life is achieved through balance and simplicity.
Oh, and let me not forget to tell you there are plenty of delicious recipes in the book. I already made one of her go-to open sandwiches with toasted sourdough, veggie cream cheese, smoked salmon, cucumber, chives, and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes. It was delicious and light, yet surprisingly filling.
The reason I felt so deeply moved by this book was because Johansen is much more than a well-respected food person. She’s also an anthropologist (I studied anthropology, too… in case you’re new around here). She studied cultural anthropology while in undergrad at the University of Cambridge and got a Master’s degree in the anthropology of food at the University of London. Because of this training, I believe Johansen did an incredible job connecting ideas that could be seen as frivolous by skeptics (i.e. Nordic design/style guidance, cooking and eating habits, physical fitness tips) to the much deeper hows and whys. She explains how they live their lives and why their lifestyle habits have repeatedly earned Nordic countries ratings as the happiest countries on Earth. Spoiler alert: It has a lot to do with elemental human needs. I felt a nerdy surge of pride when she referenced Marcel Mauss or anthropological theories I’m familiar with.
I want to share some of my favorite quotes from the book with you. Naturally, most of them are from section eight, “Kinship, Conviviality, & Openness.” In case you are considering getting the book or just want to quickly get the gist of what hygge is all about, read on!
“No such thing as bad weather – only bad clothing.” pg. 17
“Effort really is a choice, and the human body is capable of an extraordinary range of activities, so why wouldn’t you want to be as active as possible?” pg. 44
“Why over complicate everything during your brief time on this planet when simplicity is the founder of good living?” pg. 161
“Pairing everything back to a few essentials means we can be freed from the relentless pressure to consume, to be the best, to stay in fashion — to keep up with the exhausting merry-go round of modern living.” pg. 61-62
“If you can be happy at home, society as a whole will benefit.” pg 163
“If you are more fortunate than others it is better to build a longer table than a taller fence.” pg. 185
“Aside from socializing us, the act of eating together also serves as an incubator for creativity. A free flow of ideas fosters debate thanks to the opportunity to discuss matters in an atmosphere of reason and open-mindedness.” pg. 187
“That’s the spirit of hygge: a belief in the magic of everyday life, choosing hope and a can-do attitude over fear and despair, and making time to be kind, both to yourself and to others.” pg. 192