A British take on hygge and happiness in Denmark

Hygge may be a relatively new trend in the UK, but British expat Alexia Kühn has been experiencing it firsthand for over two decades. Here's what she thinks her countrymen could learn from the Danes.

A British take on hygge and happiness in Denmark
Can the Brits supplement their cuppa with some hygge? Photo: WavebreakmediaMicro
As a British expat in her 21st year as a resident of Denmark, with all this Brexit lark, I'm thinking of getting dual citizenship. That got me thinking about what it's like to be a Dane and about all this hygge and 'happy Denmark' hype going around at the moment. 
What is it about Denmark that sends the Danes so high up on the Happy Scale? I mean, Denmark has one of the highest rates of alcohol and anti-depressant consumption in the world, no wonder they're so jolly. But for those of us not prone to drinking copious amounts of alcohol, here are a few  hints from the Danish lifestyle that may account for them being consistently rated the 'happiest nation on earth'. 
One of them is definitely the concept of hygge (pronounce the 'y' as in 'pure, cure'), a way of life that pervades the Danish way of thinking, representing a comforting sense of wellbeing. It could be a walk out in nature, a cup of tea in the soft hue of candlelight, the flicker of a log fire, a good film with friends, a chat over a beer…you name it, any chance to create this sense of wellbeing, the Danes grab it. In fact, I strongly believe the Danes use hygge to make the best out of potentially dismal situations.
Like the months of January and February.
Dark, cold, windy, wet. Did I mention dark? A problem for the Danes? Naaah…they just put the kettle on, light a candle, eat a cake and let a whoosh of warm fuzzy hygginess chase their winter blues away. I kid you not. 
Hygge: 'The Three Cs'
I often call hygge ‘The Three Cs’ – Cake, Candles and Cocoa. There you have it. The perfect recipe for any situation you may happen upon. Whether at a kid's birthday, a date with friends, a meeting at work, or just your average 'I survived the elements and got home in one piece' afternoon break, one or all of the three Cs will ensure the restoration of harmony (sanity) and wellbeing to all. Seriously, you cannot have any gathering without at least one component present. Cake is good. And candles. Lots of them. And hot steaming cocoa, preferably laden with whipped cream. Who needs alcohol? 
Talking about the elements…we're talking all four seasons in half an hour in Denmark. You can don a light jacket in early summer, take it off after 5 minutes in the baking sun, get soaked in a sudden shower the next 15 minutes and wish you brought gloves and a scarf after a gale force wind decides to rip through you. 
Upon moving to Denmark, I had one jacket. One.  Hahahahaha. What was I thinking (hand slaps forehead). At least I had an umbrella. 
But was I in for a surprise. In the space of six months, I had acquired a winter jacket of arctic proportions, a down-to-your-knees rain coat designed to shield off the slightest drop; rain trousers (yes, they actually make those, not attractive), knee-high wellies with industrial strength soles; snow boots with insulated core and water-repellent outer layer (Gore-tex becomes a regular part of one's vocabulary after a while in Denmark), a snow suit, a plethora of hats, scarves, gloves, and thermal underwear. I could go on. 
Looking back, I can see I did what the Danes always do. They don't run away and hide from the elements, (you can't eat cake all day), they embrace the elements. They dress for the occasion. 
Two feet of snow? No problem, don your snow suit with fluorescent strips down the sides (it gets dark at 3pm in winter, ok?), on your bike and wade through it. Freezing cold but sunny? Grab your skates and find your nearest open door skating rink, so you can work up an appetite for cake and cocoa.
Embrace whatever may come
The point is Danes always seem to find a way to embrace whatever comes their way so that satisfied sense of wellbeing is maintained. And it's all done with their seemingly effortless sense of style and cool. I mean, imagine drinking your cocoa out of a Royal Copenhagen mug, surrounded by Danish design in a minimalistic Scandi interior that looks remarkably uncontrived or planned. Forget coordinated drapes, cushion covers and wallpaper, the Danes make it look like they've just thrown it all together in one casual fit of Scandi inspiration. Grab a piece of driftwood and a cool rug, and you're almost there. Pull out your designer candle holder and hygge will be your middle name.
And it's not only their interior adeptness that might enhance their happy demeanours, the Danes actually look cool in a 'I-just-put-this-together' kind of way. Again, uncontrived and effortless. Girls, scrunch your hair in a top-knot and wrap a really long scarf multiple times around your neck and you'll look the epitome of Scandi -cool. Guys, pull your hair in a top knot and grow a beard and look like you don't give a … 
And of course you have in Denmark the general feeling of social security (not forgetting the unbelievably high taxes fuelling it), that basically, your general welfare is going to get taken care of and generally speaking, you are free to shape your life as you wish. Throw in a cake and a candle, and you're one happy Dane!
A British version of hygge?
The question is, is it possible for us lowly Brits to reach these Scandi heights of hygginess? Will we feel our happy barometer rising in the afterglow of a candlelit mug of frothing cocoa and an unashamed bite of our favourite cake?
Could we don our mac and wellies with a smile at the mere hint of a rain shower? To be honest with you, you don't need to write a book showing how to adopt (copy) Danish hygge, because it's not really a measurable entity that can be reproduced. You can paint all your walls white and buy all the Danish candelabra you want and still not feel hyggelig or happy. It has more to do with one's approach to life and appreciating even simple things as meaningful and life enhancing. We don't need to look beyond what's already there in the English tradition. A roaring fire at the pub, a pint at the bar, eating chips out of newspaper, a windy walk after Sunday lunch, you name it. 
What gives us a sense of wellbeing with (hardly) no demands? Even on a bad day. Why do we always boil a cuppa, whether we've just come home, got something to celebrate or just heard bad news? Because that is for some of us our way of dealing with a potentially miserable situation.  
Maybe we don’t need to go all in on the Danes’ love of candles but it wouldn't hurt to turn off the one fluorescent bulb in the middle of the ceiling and create some hygge lighting. 
What do you enjoy doing? So do it, enjoying it in that moment, rather than bashing yourself up about eating that cake or walking around in your pyjamas all Sunday. Do you have to face a crappy, unavoidable life situation (like walking to work in sheet rain because the car won't start)? Then embrace it and get on with it the best way you can.
You think Danes wander around in a permanent haze of calm and wellbeing? Of course not. You wouldn't want to meet a disconcerted Dane being jumped in the queue for beer/sausages/the till, even after they've had cake and cocoa. You think all Danes inhabit über cool domiciles dripping in Danish design? Think again! Life in Denmark is not always hygge and happiness, or coolness and cake. But the Danes have given a name to an approach to life that I believe any culture can practise and enhance. So Brits, appreciate the little things, embrace the things you can't change and start enjoying what you enjoy!
Alexia KühnAlexia Kühn is from England and moved to Denmark 22 years ago to marry a Dane. She is trained in theology, teaching and counselling, and currently lives in Copenhagen with her husband and two children.

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World’s second-happiest country Denmark to get museum about happiness

Denmark, famed for its regular spot near the top of the annual World Happiness Report, is to open a museum about feeling good.

World’s second-happiest country Denmark to get museum about happiness
File photo: Mads Nissen/Ritzau Scanpix

Why is it that the Nordic countries often top the World Happiness Reports? How has the perception of the good life evolved over time? And can you actually measure happiness? 

Visitors can look for the answers to these questions when the world’s first happiness museum opens in Denmark, which took second place behind Finland in the most recent edition of the report.

Thinktank Happiness Research Institute (Institut for Lykkeforskning) is behind the Happiness Museum, which is scheduled to open on Copenhagen's Admiralgade in May. Entry will cost 95 kroner for adults and 65 kroner for children and seniors.

The museum is led by Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute and author of a string of volumes on Danish happiness culture including the bestselling The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living. The museum is fully financed by Happiness Research Institute.

“The United Nations has put happiness on the agenda with the World Happiness Report, where Denmark consistently ranks in the top of the happiest countries,” Wiking said in written comments provided to The Local.


“At the Happiness Research Institute we receive many requests for visits – as people imagine the office to be a magical place full of puppies and ice-cream. Sadly, we sit in front of computers and look at data and evidence – but we thought 'let’s create a museum where we can bring the science of happiness to life',” he added.

In the small museum, visitors will gain insight in the history of happiness, the politics of happiness, the anatomy of smiles and why the Nordic countries are considered happiness superpowers. 

The museum is interactive and visitors will take part in small exercises involving light and chocolate, as well as thought experiments, including: Would you take the red pill or the blue pill in the Matrix, being put in a machine that gives you the illusion of living your perfect life – or would you prefer to live in the real world?

Exhibits also include artefacts of happiness donated by people from around the world which remind them of their happiest moments.

“We might be Danish and British – but we are first and foremost people,” Wiking said.

“I hope visitors will see how alike we are when it comes to happiness – that our guests exit the museum wiser, happier and a little more motivated to make the world a better place,” he added.