By Bonnie Hutchinson
I’m having one of most delicious summers in recent memory. Lots of unstructured time. Visits with people I treasure. Reading fiction. Loving our early morning and late evening light. Lots of time outdoors.
In this context, I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell. She and her husband lived in London UK. They were doing the stereotypical 30-something professional-career thing of working high-intensity stress-filled 80-hour weeks, non-stop electronic communication, hurry, hurry, hurry, collapsing on weekends (except for work interruptions), no time for family, no time for friends, no time for anything but work.
They both realized that, while they looked like a successful couple rising in their respective careers, when they weren’t too exhausted to simply be numb, they were actually not enjoying life. The author’s husband had the opportunity to work for a year in Denmark.
They arrived in Denmark in January, to live not in a city, but a tiny community in rural Denmark.
The description sounded pretty much like January in rural East Central Alberta. Bitterly cold, lots of snow, and not so much as a coffee shop open when they arrived in the community. Talk about culture shock and climate shock. The author wondered, “What have we done?”
But over the next months, once they got over being startled, they began to appreciate “living Danishly.”
People were friendly. People trusted each other. People helped each other. Working more than six hours a day was considered ridiculous. The gap between the highest-paid and lowest-paid salaries in companies was not huge. Working relationships were informal (though very productive). It was expected that everyone would have one or two hobbies or pastimes outside of work that they did for sheer enjoyment. The Danish state made it possible for everyone to experience excellent health care, education, child care, cultural opportunities in ways that had not been possible in the UK.
The couple were introduced to the concept of hygge, a Danish word used to acknowledge a feeling or moment, whether alone or with friends, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary, as cozy, charming or special. When they learned that Danes are among the happiest people on earth, they were not surprised. At the end of the year, the author and her husband decided to stay another year.
Here are excerpts from among the author’s tips for living Danishly. She says…trust (more). “This is the number one reason the Danes are so happy–so try it. You’ll feel better and save yourself unnecessary stress, and trusting the people around you can make them behave better, so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Get hygge. “Remember the simple pleasures in life–light a candle, make yourself a cup of coffee, eat some pastries. See? You’re feeling better already.”
Use your body. “Cycle, run, jump, dance, have sex. Shake whatever you’ve got. Using your body not only releases get-happy endorphins, it’ll also make you look hotter, Danish-style.”
Value family. “Family comes first in all aspects of Danish living. Reaching out to relatives and regular rituals can make you happier.” No family close? “Start your own with friends or using tip #3 (the sex part).” Play. “Danes love an activity for its own sake, and in the land of Lego, playing is considered a worthwhile occupation at any age.”
Share. “Life’s easier this way, and you’ll be happier too according to studies. Can’t influence government policy to wangle a Danish-style welfare state? Take some of your cake around to a neighbours, or invite someone over to share your hygge and let the warm, fuzzy feelings flow.”
As a teenager, one of my best friends was Danish. I loved going to her home after school on the days her mother made Danish pastry. I also noticed how comfortable it was to be around her family. They just seemed relaxed, and to accept everyone and everything.
Now I understand why. They were living Danishly.
I’d love to hear from you. If you have comments about this column or suggestions for future topics, send an e-mail to Bonnie@BonnieHutchinson.com and I’ll happily reply within one business day.