People are homebodies for a variety of reasons: they are introverted, they have a disability, their hobbies are well-suited for home, or they simply like being indoorsy. As part of his third installment in a series on homebodies, Peter McGraw speaks to Meik Wiking about creating cozy moments—at home or elsewhere—through the Danish concept of Hygge. Meik is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute and the author of the “The Little Book of Hygge – Danish Secrets to Happy Living.” The conversation will inspire you to make changes in order to enjoy being comfortable and cozy.
Listen to Episode #149 here
Welcome back. This is the third installment in a short series on homebodies. People are homebodies for a variety of reasons. They’re introverted. They have a disability. Their hobbies are well suited for home or they simply like being indoorsy. I kicked off the series with a conversation with Donnie who’s living his best life staying close to home with his dogs. If he went out on the adventures that people advertise on social media, his life would be less remarkable.
In the second installment, I spoke to Gretchen Rubin who presented some non-intuitive ways to create a more welcoming home for yourself and others. In this episode, I speak to Meik Wiking about creating comfortable moments at home or elsewhere through the Danish concept of hygge. Meik is the CEO of The Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen and the author of The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living. I suspect you will be inspired and make some changes to help you feel more comfortable about being comfortable. I hope you enjoy the episode. Let’s get started.
Thank you. My name is spelled weirdly. I was born in the late ’70s. It was a weird time. I don’t know what my parents had but that’s the spelling they went with.
There were some drugs involved. This episode is a return to Scandinavia of sorts. I had an episode on why Sweden is the singles’ capital of the world. I spoke to an author about what he calls the Swedish Theory of Love and how the Swedes and members of other Scandinavian countries keep two balls in the air. On one hand, they have a very individualistic nature. On the other hand, they’re also accepting of government and support. These two things work together where the government helps support them with healthcare, education and unemployment.
This allows Swedes specifically and then Scandinavians, in general, to take risks to live the life they want. They don’t have to make compromises to survive. What I like to talk about is that when you get to have choices, you get to choose the path to your remarkable life. One of those paths and one that I don’t talk a lot about is once you have your basics taken care of, you can lean into living a good life. When I say a good life, I mean a life that’s rich in positive emotion.
Those positive emotions can come from lots of things. It comes from having exciting adventures, having lots of sex and eating good meals but one of them that I have stumbled upon as part of this series on homebodies or this notion of creating a warm and welcoming home base for yourself and perhaps for others is something that you are an expert on, not only as a Dane but as an author. That is this notion of healthy hedonism via the Danish notion of hygge.
Your time in Denmark paid off. You pronounce it well.
Thank you. It’s not spelled like your name. It’s not spelled as it sounds. Let’s start with the actual etymology of hygge and then about living a hygge life.
I want to comment on your overture there because you’re exactly right in nailing perhaps one of the biggest differences there is between Scandinavians and Americans. That’s the view of the state. Often in the US, you feel that you have to be protected from the state whereas the Scandinavian view is that the state protects you from the market. There’s wide public support in all five Nordic countries toward the state and the welfare state.
One of the strongest testimonials toward the welfare state is that 88% of Danes say they are happily paying their taxes. Often when I talk to American journalists, they will say, “How can you be so happy in Denmark? You pay so much in tax.” I say, “Maybe we are happy we’re paying a lot in tax because we are paying into the common good.” I wouldn’t become happier from owning a bigger car but I do harvest some happiness in having my basic needs met and knowing that everybody I love is taken care of.
The Nordic countries are often called the happiest in the world. Perhaps we’re not necessarily the happiest but we are the least unhappy because the Nordic welfare state is good at reducing causes of unhappiness. Access to healthcare, relatively generous pension schemes and unemployment benefits reduce why a lot of people around the world are happy.
It’s interesting with this show. Your is slogan, “Live remarkably.” You told me about your audience before we hit record in terms of choosing their path in life. Maybe that’s also one of the keys we see. When we look at age and happiness, often there’s talk about a u-shaped curve. People are happy when they’re young and when they’re old. The global low point for happiness is the mid-40s.
It’s 44, which is the age I have. This is rock bottom. One of the series that explains why people become happier from their mid-40s to later in life is that they become better at prioritizing what matters to them. Instead of caring so much about what other people think we should do and how we should live our life, then knowing what matters to me and prioritizing a life impacts my quality of life.
This is a perfect connection to this topic or this notion of homebodies because we live in a world that celebrates outdoorsy people and passport-ready people. If you’re on dating apps, it’s filled with, “I want to have adventures. I want to go out in the world and so on.” For me, living a remarkable life is about living the life you choose that makes you the best person that you are.
That means that while everybody is going out to the dance club or the rave, you’re staying home and reading a book. That’s what is best for you. What I want is that people are able to opt in, whether it be to opt into a relationship or not or opt into being indoorsy or outdoorsy. One is not better than the other. It’s about the right fit. You are being kind. The Danes compete for the happiest people in the world. You folks end up number one on that list often.
We have been beaten by Finland for the past few years. We have two options. We can make Danes happier. We can make the Fins less happy. We’re trying to beat them in ice hockey but that’s a very difficult task.
I love this idea of removing negatives. Taking people out of misery is the most important thing that you can do for them. We will eventually get to hygge. These are two well-being researchers who have met for the first time. They’re excited.
We see hygge for the first time in Danish writing around 200 years ago. It’s a key component of Danish culture. It’s a key part of our national DNA. Hygge happens everywhere but Danes think we have a monopoly on it perhaps the same way that Americans will often say that freedom is an inherent American thing. There’s freedom in other countries as well. It is the same with hygge. Dane’s thing is this national DNA. Hygge is the art of creating a nice atmosphere. It’s about simple pleasures. It has been called the perfect night in. That’s why we’re talking about it in terms of homebodies.
I also remember one American student who told me that the networking or socializing culture she experienced was different in Denmark compared to what she was used to at home in the US. She found that in the US, it’s much more the extrovert game. It’s high-powered networking. She said, “Hygge is socializing for introverts.” It’s connecting with people but perhaps in smaller groups where you feel more comfortable and where you know each other better than you do at large parties.
Perhaps if we want to give an anecdote of what hygge is in terms of concrete experiences, page one in my book about hygge is a trip I had to Sweden with a group of friends where we had rented a cabin during a weekend in December. We had been out hiking and came back in the afternoon as the sun was setting. We lit a fire so we could get some heat. We also prepared a stew. We got that boiling on the stove. You could hear the sounds, the fire in the fireplace and the stew boiling.
We were relaxing, waiting for the food to be ready in our comfy clothes with perhaps a bottle or two of wine and enjoying each other’s silent company until one of my friends broke the silence and said, “Could this be any more hyggelig?” It is the adjective of hygge. One of the other ones said, “Yes if there was a storm outside.” Hygge is also this feeling of being sheltered from the outside. That happens in the US. I’ve had hyggelig experiences in the US as well and in many countries around the world but Danes care about that feeling and try to achieve it on a day-to-day basis.
It’s a wonderful example because anybody who has been in a cold climate intuitively has that feeling of how that snowstorm, that cold rainstorm or the wind buffeting up against the windows or that notion of, “I feel secure and warm.” It’s this contrast of yin and yang.
It’s interesting you say that everybody has been in a Northern climate because if you look at Google searches for hygge within the US, I can see the further North the individual states are, the more popular the term is. It is a Northern state of mind. It is preparing for winter. For Danes, hygge happens throughout the year but we use it as a survival strategy for winter. We have lousy, cold and windy weather for a good part of the year. We’re trying to make the best of the situation and make our homes full of warmth and a loving atmosphere.
It roughly translates into the word well-being. Is that fair to say from an etymology standpoint?
It can give well-being. It also originates from the word hugge. That’s what hygge should feel like. It’s like a good warm hugge. Another label would be to call it being consciously cozy, feeling warm and snuggly and being mindful about it.
As you alluded to, it can be used as a noun, an adjective or a verb. It has broad use.
I could say, “Do you want to come over for dinner at our house on Friday?” We will talk about how hyggelig Friday is going to be. On Friday, we will talk about how we are hyggeing or having hygge. On Monday, we will talk about how hyggelig Friday was. Everything goes.
You’ve already inspired me. Anybody who reads this knows that I regularly host game nights. I don’t exclude partner people from game nights. We allow them to attend but I’m usually bringing together proud solos. I do these on a Wednesday night and stuff, which is a very singles thing to do. There are no sitters. There’s nothing, “Let’s get together,” but I feel like I should have a hygge night where I can try out some of these things where the goal is to be comfy.
You’re already doing it with the board games. Board games are a good driver of hygge because you’re relaxing and doing something fun that is not high-paced. It depends on the board game. What games are we talking about?
We’re not playing Monopoly. Don’t worry. We’re not bad Americans. There are a lot of fun games. There are card games. To me, the games are not about winning and losing. The games are about creating an atmosphere of fun and playfulness.
I was reminded. You said playing cards. I have a group of friends I play poker with. It’s quite an international group with 10 to 12 different nationalities. We talk in English but there’s one word that we use which is Danish. That is hygge. It’s typically when my friend Danny loses a big hand and says, “It doesn’t matter. I’m just here for the hygge.” Card games are a good driver as well.
I bought your book. Unbeknownst to me, there was an inscription in it. Don’t be mad at me. This is secondhand.
Isn’t there an element in the book that vintage is more hygge? You’re following the example.
I’m embarrassed that it’s secondhand because I’m an author but I’m also an honest man. I’m going to read this because it’s lovely. It’s from D to Darcy. It says, “Twin friend, sidekick, mentor and office mate, I love you so much. I’m so grateful this universe brought us together. I know it was meant to be. I hope this Danish hygge helps you continue your path of love and Zen.” Isn’t that very nice? I’m getting a little misty here. Something is loving about this idea of creating comfort for yourself and others. It’s the rise of self-care. The Danes had this figured out 200 years ago in a way that most of us have not.
We’re still trying to but it’s something that is part of our culture. What you read there from the inscription also reminds me of my favorite room in what we have here in Copenhagen, The Happiness Museum, which we opened a couple of years ago. In the museum, we have asked people to write down on Post-its what happiness is to them. We have thousands of Post-its in that room. People get misty-eyed also in that room but you also see a lot of people smiling because what people write is relatable.
It’s about connecting with other people. It’s moms, dads, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands and friends. There’s a lot of food written there like pizza night, mom’s apple crumbles or board game night. One guy wrote, “Happiness is a good-quality lawn mower and a big lawn to mow.” The older I get, the more I get that definition of happiness. That book did so well because I described an emotion or a universal desire. The Little Book of Hygge is translated into 38 languages. It’s because we gave a word to an emotion that people were already experiencing.
You have experienced the emotion I’m trying to describe in the book before you read the book. That’s also what is uniquely Danish. We have this language around that emotion, experience or feeling. That perhaps makes us more mindful of it and try to incorporate it into our daily lives but we have challenges in Denmark as well. You say that we mastered that art. To some extent, we have but we have challenges too. People struggle with stress, loneliness and depression here as well but some things we are doing right.
One last example before we get into the act of creating a nice atmosphere is doctors will prescribe hygge, “If you have a cold, tea and hygge are all you need. Let your body rest and recover. You don’t need pills.”
In a lot of societies, we probably over-medicate. I enjoy seeing different countries experiment with prescribing exercise social activities or going to museums. There are some real benefits to be harvested there.
You have a hygge manifesto. I’m going to read through these so we can talk about some of them. Number one is about light. I want to talk about candles as a case study. Twenty-eight percent of Danes light a candle every day. That’s more than 1 in 4. 30% of them light 6 or more. I love it. I have a friend, a fellow solo and a woman who has been on the show, Kym Terribile. She has a candle company called Wax Crescent. We have a discount code for solos called SOLO20.
There’s something special about her candles. I don’t know what it is. I’m not enough of a candle person to know it but I buy candles from her. I sometimes find myself going, “Is it worth it to light it?” They feel a little precious. There’s some finitude with a candle. That fact has licensed me to light candles way more often than I would before. What is it about candles specifically and lighting in general that matters so much to hygge?
In general, it’s because hygge is about creating a nice and warm atmosphere. Lighting is quite essential and a very powerful tool in that way. You write about the statistics. Danes use a lot of candles because they give off a nice soft and warm light. It also makes people look nicer. We call it looking grotto-fabulous. Candles are not going to save the world but it’s interesting to see how a little thing like a candle can change an atmosphere.
One of my favorite anecdotes about candles came from a Canadian reader of The Little Book of Lykke. He read about candles in the book, went out, bought some candle holders and started to light candles for dinner at home with his family. He and his wife have three teenage sons. The teenagers started to tease their dad when he first lit the candles, “Dad, what’s going on with the candles? Do you want to have some romantic time with mom? Should we leave?”
Eventually, the boys started to light the candles for dinner. Their family dinners last twenty minutes longer because the candles and the change in the atmosphere put the boys in a different mood. Instead of sitting down and shoveling down their food, they sit down, sip their wine and talk about their day. That’s anecdotal but it’s an interesting piece of data in terms of how a little change around a dinner table changes how a family interacts.
In some ways, it’s part of a ritual. It’s an intention. When you light the candle, you don’t light a candle for five minutes. You’re like, “I’m settling into this experience.”
We’re both well-being researchers. We should do studies around this. Why is it that some things are soothing to look at or be around? We have talked about candles but I together with a lot of people also enjoy sitting around a bonfire. Why is that? If you think about it, it’s not pleasant because you’re too hot on one side. You’re cold on another. You get smoke in your face. What’s pleasant about that? We need more research in that direction.
As a quick aside, I have a forthcoming episode with Will von Hippel who wrote a wonderful book called The Social Leap. In the conversation, we talk about fire and how important fire has been to the development of human culture. First of all, you were safer because you’re now safe from animals and predators. What happened was it created socialization, storytelling and then all the other things that come from this. The ideas get shared and so on.
Fire is such an essential part of our biological development because it allows us to cook food. We don’t have to spend our whole day chewing as chimpanzees do. It allowed our brains to get bigger but then it created Netflix and chill in many ways or an ability to gain new ideas. At the same time that it’s comforting, it’s also exciting in a metaphorical sense. That’s a fun idea. Let’s write a paper. I’m going to read through the manifesto and then we can pick out a few. The folks who are compelled by this can buy your book, vintage or not. Someone, buy the original.
I buy secondhand books as well. Don’t worry about it.
Number one is the atmosphere or this notion of light. One other thing about candles that is important is they also give off a smell oftentimes.
In Denmark, we don’t often use scented candles. It’s quite popular in a lot of countries but Danes go in a different direction on the candles.
Two is presence, which is severely lacking like phones off. Pleasure is consumption, especially chocolate. Dark chocolate is my major vice. I was pleased to hear I’m well on the way. Number four is equality or a lack of hierarchy. Solos appreciate that. Solos tend to be less hierarchical in general. They don’t have a tendency to elevate some relationships much higher than others. I like this notion of we versus me.
Five is gratitude. Six is harmony or a lack of competitiveness. My game nights fit. Seven is comfort. This is supposed to be a relaxing experience. Eight is a truce. We’re reducing the drama. Oftentimes, this is a non-political zone. Nine is togetherness. Ten is a shelter or this notion of building peace and serenity. That is the hygge manifesto. How did you go about constructing that list?
It’s not a prioritized list. All elements are important. It could have been longer. It takes a lot of components. If we are to talk about some of them, the last one was shelter. Maslow talked about this for 50 to 60 years but the very foundation of human needs is security. It’s a shelter but it’s also sometimes a shelter from other people. We need privacy. We need to be able to retreat.
It’s interesting. We did a study at the Happiness Research Institute where we looked at how can we build better homes. We have looked at a typology called row houses or terraced houses in Denmark and the UK and found out what works and what doesn’t work. One of the most popular streets in Copenhagen is a neighborhood called Kartoffelrækkerne, which means the potato rows.
It’s 11th Street in Copenhagen of immensely popular row houses, especially among architects. They’re popular because they’re great houses but each street is also a small community. People know each other. They have common workdays. They have board game nights as well. They borrow sugar from each other and a lot of things. People take a lot of pleasure in that.
It’s interesting. There is a culture in these streets that in the front yards, you chat with neighbors, sit, drink a cup of coffee and say hi to people but in the backyards where you are also quite close to your neighbors, you’re able to see them since these are row houses, there’s the culture that we don’t talk to each other. We ignore each other.
You ignore that there’s somebody close by because we need to be able to be private and retreat ourselves. What we also saw with people who enjoyed their homes was that they have places within their homes where they can retreat to. It’s a quite universal human need that we like to connect with other people but we also like to be able to retreat from people from time to time.
A shelter is quite important, especially when the world can seem even more turbulent than it was previously with a war going on European soil and a global pandemic. Focusing on what we can control is sometimes helpful. What we can control is what happens within our walls. That is also what hygge is. It’s about circling the wagons or building a home fortress, stocking your pantry and making the best of a difficult situation.
In contrast to the chaos of the world, this is a safe place and peaceful place. It’s a place I have control over. I’m not a homebody per se. I never identified as a homebody. The pandemic has made me more of one. I was forced to change my habits. What I realized was I like the company of myself at home. I like a quiet evening of reading, writing and good music in the background. I don’t have to be out every night and be on planes all the time to do that.
I like to do that but then I also welcome being able to come back to that space. One thing I like about what these architects have done and then what the culture has layered on top of it is it created an environment that allows you to choose. You can move through these three spaces, your alone space inside or your space in the backyard, which might be with a partner, children and friends or you may be out on the front stoop with this broader community.
One of the things that’s very nice about singles in the United States is they are more involved in their community than partnered people. Some of that is because they don’t have this other person crowding out all the other people in the world. Some of it is they have this energy and the agency to go forth and engage with their neighbors or the community to volunteer and so on. They can move out, march out and retreat as needed in this world of entropy. Do you want to pick something from the list? Do you want me to throw something your way? How do you want to do this?
I forgot about the list. I’ve written a book about memory as well. Another one was a pleasure, which is a key component of hygge as well. It’s about giving your overachieving adult self a break from time to time. One of my readers in France wrote me that she had a hygge all her life. She just didn’t know there was a word for it. It was interesting. She wrote that earlier, she would have had an afternoon with her two kids. They would have been on the sofa and had some treats, biscuits or perhaps a cup of tea. She would have called that a lazy afternoon. Now, she calls it a hyggelig afternoon. That was nice that we removed the guilt from what should be a nice activity like enjoying some simple pleasures like biscuits.
Danes go to the extreme on the treats, the pleasure and the hedonism. We are the country in Europe with the largest candy consumption. The average is 8.2 kilograms of candy per year. In The Happiness Museum, we have a cylinder that contains those 8.2 kilograms of candy or it used to contain those 8.2 kilograms of candy because our visitor’s taken little pieces of candy. We’re down to 6 kilos. Oscar Wilde said, “We can resist anything but temptation.” That’s a testimony to a lack of spine in the candy department.
My guess is that your candy is healthier than American candy. It has real sugar in it.
I have no idea.
There’s a phenomenon in the United States that is connected to this pleasure idea and then the comfort idea. It’s called comfort food. When I say comfort food, people know exactly what that is for them. It might be spaghetti and meatballs, a stew or soup. It might even be something like nachos. It’s hot food. It’s flavorful. It’s a little decadent. It doesn’t always have to be hot. For me, it’s hot. For some people, it could be ice cream. As an aside, people don’t know this but ice cream consumption often goes up during cold weather because it’s a hygge activity for a lot of people. That’s counterintuitive. Is there a similar notion of comfort food in Scandinavia?
Things that need to simmer for a couple of hours on the stove would be considered hyggelig. It gives you time to sit down and enjoy a glass of wine preferably if it’s raining or storming outside. I enjoy cooking immensely. It gives me a lot of pleasure but I also enjoy the process and being able to serve some nice food for family and friends. That’s a wonderful skill to have.
What’s nice about your story about how a lazy afternoon becomes a hygge afternoon is this idea of if you eat comfort food every night, that’s probably not going to be good for you. You need to have your salads, fruits, vegetables and so on but it is also okay, especially for those among us who are high-achieving and always striving and trying to do all the right things. That can be oppressive. It’s to be able to license yourself to recognize that this is creating positive emotion and this is serving you and constantly exerting willpower is bad for you similar to the way that having no willpower is not good for you in a sense. I like the idea of allowing people to slow down, feel that warmth and enjoy good tastes.
Pleasure should be part of a good life. It’s a vital component together with other ingredients like a sense of purpose, overall satisfaction, joy and excitement. Pleasure, for instance, through food is vital for a good life.
The last one I want to talk about is this notion of presence. We live in a world that is very good at capturing our attention. You were born in the late ’70s. You and I have seen the world change in this way and the explosion of good media and handheld media. You can sit in a room with four people and you’re not even sharing the same experience because one person is on TikTok, one person is on Facebook and one person is on YouTube. You specifically mention in the book phones are off.
We have done several studies at the Happiness Research Institute on social media and how it affects our well-being. The overall conclusion is that it depends on how you use social media. If you use social media to be social, connect with other people and organize board game nights, then it can have a positive effect but if you use it passively, scroll down and expose yourself to a bombardment of great news that happens for everybody else, then it seems to have a negative effect.
It’s interesting to see. There is a Danish boarding school that has kids from 14 to 16. At the beginning of the semester when the kids arrive, the school takes all the phones and devices from the kids. They can then have their devices for one hour per day. For one hour per day, you can go on TikTok, Snapchat and whatever platform people use but for 23 hours, there are no phones.
After six months, it’s put to a vote among the students, “Should we continue with this system? Should everybody get their phones back?” Eighty percent on an average vote to keep that system in place because they experience, “If none of us have our phones, we connect with the three other people in the room that you were talking about before.” That’s interesting. The challenge is how we replicate that in the real world. A boarding school is a lap where you can control things more than you can in the real world but it shows that people prefer that connection.
I love that story. Twenty-eight percent of households in the United States are one person. Among singles, that’s an even greater percentage. That phone especially can be quite tempting and useful. I make lots of phone calls. Sometimes I’m preparing a meal. I put on my earbuds and call someone. I have company while I’m puttering around the house. The other problem is that we’re so connected to our phones.
For example, if I want to play music in my house, I do it through my phone, which then necessitates that the phone needs to be on if I want to play music even if the music is in the background or even if I’m not actively DJing my evening. I’m a fairly simple man. I have everything I need. I feel very fortunate in that way. I don’t want anything. I don’t want a bigger car. I don’t want more clothes. If anything, I want to own fewer things. I want to own nothing except clothes that fit me, to be perfectly frank.
The holidays were approaching in 2021. I was like, “Do I treat myself? Is there something I could do?” Usually, a trip that I could take or an experience that I could have would be the normal thing. You know this as well as any other well-being researcher. Experience tends to be better for us than things in general on balance. I was thinking about this home base idea.
Harkening back to some time I spent in the desert at the High Five Homestead, there’s this magical place for me where I go and do mushroom trips, read, write, walk and be disconnected from the world. There’s a turntable and a rack of vinyl in the High Five Homestead, which means that I never have to have my phone on because I can put on a record and let it play. I treated myself to a turntable. Unbeknownst to me, vinyl is incredibly expensive.
You can get those secondhand as well, Peter.
I do my best but sometimes the secondhand stuff is more expensive because it’s vintage. It’s cool. Nonetheless, one of the things I do with game nights is put out a pile of vinyl and let my guest DJ. That means I’m not on my phone. I’m not changing this. I do this also on my quiet nights. The phone gets off. I have one of those K Safes. For the reader who’s not familiar with a K Safe, it’s a plastic box with a lid that has a timer on it.
You can put your iPad, phone and other things. Some people put their drugs, candy or whatever it is that is tempting them in there. You set a dial. It could be twenty minutes. It could be ten days. You press a button and it counts down 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. It makes a sound as it locks the cover. Your phone is in this box. It will not be unlocked until the time that you designate.
It’s the equivalent of Ulysses slashing himself to the mast so he can hear the sirens. If you need to get your phone, you can but you have to destroy this box. This box is expensive. It was at least $50. You have a real Sophie’s Choice decision to make. What I find is that when I need to do that, my shoulders drop. I feel a little freer. I’m no longer tempted. I get to put on a record and let it play.
I assume you’ve had some of the same experiences then or feelings when you’ve been on airplanes where you are also disconnected from being online. You are more present. You’re perhaps more focused when you’re writing or reading something. It’s the same mechanism.
I often welcome coffee shops where they don’t have Wi-Fi. For some reason, my Wi-Fi doesn’t work or I never ask for the password. This becomes a coffee shop where I go to be fully present yet stimulated. Is there anything else in terms of this notion of presence and hygge that you can teach me that will help me with my next game night or my next night in that winter is coming to Colorado?
I’m not sure if we should label it under presence but perhaps connecting with other people, pleasure or comfort. You’re doing well in terms of the game nights. You enjoy cooking and talking to other people when you cook. What I enjoy is also a cooking club where we cook together but instead of you being the host and being responsible for the entire menu, we all bring ingredients to cook a dish under a certain theme. We meet at your place. It’s either Mexican night. We have done recipes with ducks in them.
One evening, we all made sausages. There were five of us. Everybody brought ingredients to make sausages. I made sure we got the casings that we needed. We spent probably three hours cooking. I find with men that the conversation flows better when we’re doing something, for example, cooking than when we’re sitting down and eating. Doing something or talking while you have stuff in your hand drives the conversation or helps the conversation or poker cards.
We were cooking for three hours. We sat down with these plates full of mountains of sausages and started eating. Every bite I had was horrendous. Something went wrong. It has been years and we still talk about what went wrong in the Great Sausage Disaster of 2016 or 2017. The point is it doesn’t have to be perfect. We’re in it together. We messed up together. It’s a nice fun anecdote that brought the group together.
Bad experiences make good stories. Good experiences make bad stories. I’m an academic. We talk a lot about our 2×2 designs.
What are 2×2 designs?
I don’t want to nerd out too much but it’s where you’re manipulating 2 different variables at 2 different levels in a sense. We have been bouncing between hygge alone, solo hygge and group hygge. We have been only talking about hygge at home but hygge can happen in nature. It can even happen as you stated in the book in the office in this sense. I want to talk a little bit about hygge outside the home and then finish by talking about solo hygge if there’s anything special there. Let’s take it out of the home and into the office, which is likely to have other people in it or into nature, which might be solo or not. What is different about hygge outside the home?
Honestly, I don’t think it’s that different but you need a space where you feel safe and protected.
A cabin is one of the best hygge places.
It can be a summer picnic with your friends in a park or a midsummer bonfire. It doesn’t have to be in the home but some of those elements from the list we covered before should be present. It also goes for the same way we talk about hygge for solos. There’s presence, pleasure, comfort and shelter. Having a glass of wine, reading a book and sitting on your window sill when it’s storming and raining outside to me is the essence of hygge. Throw on one of your vinyl of Nina Simone and you’re good to go. It doesn’t have to be with other people. I can certainly hygge by myself. Most Danes would agree.
There are three ideas here. One is this notion of moderation. You don’t want to be greedy. You don’t want to be binging where you feel awful. Where does that come from? Is moderation that sweet spot of pleasure?
You need to bring a Swede back to the program. You had a Sweden on because where Danes have hygge, Swedens have lagom, which means the right amount, not too much and not too little. They would be more an expert on moderation than I am. We had mountains of sausages. There was no moderation in that and 8.2 kilograms of candy per year.
There’s another notion that this doesn’t have to be expensive. You mentioned this notion of vintage and secondhand. As a solo, that resonates. Several things differentiate a single person from a solo but one of them is that solos tend to be unconventional thinkers. They tend to be nontraditional. They tend to question the rules and culture much more so, not just with regard to relationships but everything. For example, America is highly consumer-focused. Americans tend to think about buying things to solve their problems and make their lives better. There are often other ways to go about doing this. I love this idea that hygge doesn’t have to put a dent in your wallet.
It’s very much living the good life on a low budget. That’s what hygge is about. People will also sometimes use hygge as the get-out-of-jail card. I wrote that in a book. If you’re walking into a restaurant that’s too expensive, you would say, “Should we find a place that’s more hyggelig, down to Earth and inexpensive?” It’s about making do with what you have.
I’ve been working with happiness research for ten years. The more I get into it, the more I see it also being a question in terms of achieving well-being and happiness. How do we decouple wealth from well-being? How do we get bang for our buck when it comes to happiness? Hygge is a tool in that sense. It’s about enjoying simple pleasures. It’s about board game nights with your relatively inexpensive friends. It’s about cooking by yourself or enjoying a secondhand book or vinyl. It doesn’t have to be lavish to bring us happiness. For ourselves, understanding where can we find some joy, happiness and well-being from inexpensive activities is a good exercise to give ourselves.
The last thing is a little counterintuitive but something we have overlooked. We have talked about taste. The taste of sweets or sausage is good or bad. We mentioned smells. You might have scented candles or not. We have talked about the visuals and the importance of getting the lighting right for your activity. We have even talked about sounds like Nina Simone. If I want a little more energy, I might listen to Betty Davis. We haven’t talked about touch or this notion of tactile. Some fabrics are more hygge-like.
This is important to me because I have a very comfortable couch but something unanticipated about the couch was I don’t like the fabric on my skin. In the summer, it creates a bit of tension because I’m likely to be in a t-shirt but I feel best on the couch in a sweater, a sweatshirt or a long-sleeved hoodie. When you said tactile in the book, it immediately clicked that I want a cooler apartment so I can bundle up a little bit with these cotton and wool fabrics and so on. Let’s finish by talking about touch.
It is true. When Danes decorate or design their homes, it is about how things look but it’s also very much about how things feel. Danes are big believers in organic materials like wood, leather and wool. When people decorate their homes, they should think, “What would a Viking squirrel decorate its home?” That’s a big element but the biggest one is the lighting element. Starting with the lighting in the room is tremendously important.
It’s also interesting. I wrote a follow-up to The Little Book of Hygge called My Hygge Home. What can we do within our homes to make them even more hygge? When you ask people what turns a house into a home, a sofa is mentioned but it’s in seventh place. What people mentioned first is love, happiness, the sound of laughter, good food, cooking, belonging and dinner with friends and family. It starts with a connection and a feeling and then we can add things. Hygge is more about how we connect with people on the sofa than the sofa itself.
Meik, thank you so much for writing such a wonderful little book, bringing this idea and giving people language and inspiration to not only feel good about spending time inside and recognizing how good that can be for the body, the soul and the emotions but also giving them a way to go about doing that. This is lovely.
Happiness is often best homemade.
That’s well said. Cheers.
Thank you so much, Peter.
- Meik Wiking
- The Happiness Research Institute
- The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living
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- The Little Book of Lykke
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- My Hygge Home
About Meik Wiking
Meik Wiking is one of today’s most influential happiness researchers. He is the author of several books, including the New York Times Bestsellers: The Little Book of Hygge and The Little Book of Lykke. With more than one million copies sold worldwide, in more than 35 languages, he enjoys a wide readership. Meik is the founder and CEO of the Happiness Research Institute and a highly respected speaker on such topics. He is known for his ability to convey complex ideas and theories to a wide audience and has spoken in more than 40 countries around the world. Besides his work at the Happiness Research Institute, he is Research Associate for Denmark at the World Database of Happiness, and member of the policy advisory group for the Global Happiness Policy Report.