Don't believe the hygge: Stop trying to live your life by Scandinavian buzzwords

Adopting a trendy philosophy isn’t the key to a meaningful life

Olivia Petter
Friday 17 November 2017 11:09 GMT
What counts as reading shouldn't be reliant on whether or not you're physically turning pages
What counts as reading shouldn't be reliant on whether or not you're physically turning pages

It was around this time last year that the concept of hygge enraptured the nation in its coddling blanket of Valencia-filtered bliss.

Not just a pretentious-sounding buzzword, hygge (which loosely translates to cosiness in Danish) quickly became a global phenomenon, largely thanks to Meik Wiking's book: The Little Book of hygge.

One small step for the Danish language; one giant leap for disillusioned saps plagued by the inertia of their once hygge-less lives.

12 months later and it's time for yet another kitschy lifestyle trend: enter lykke, which is the Danish word for happiness, naturally.

Wiking's Little Book of Lykke defines itself as a practical guide to what makes us happy, using Denmark as an example.

That's right, the very same gentleman who successfully fetishised and commercialised the concept of comfort has set his sights on conquering joy itself - and it's working, the book is already a bestseller on Amazon.

But before you embark on yet another expedition into a fictionalised Scandinavian idyll, you might want to check you can pronounce it first.

For those not in the know, hygge is pronounced like “hoo-gah”, whereas lykke should sound like “lick-uh.”

Maybe their lexical ambivalence is all part of the fun.

The buzzwords don't stop there either, there’s also “lagom”, which means sufficiency and “gokotta”, which describes the art of rising early to hear the birds sing - yes, there’s really a word for that.

Scandi countries always rank highly in the World Happiness Report (Norway and Denmark took first and second place this year), but according to Andy Cope, the UK’s first (and probably only) official "Doctor of Happiness", these league tables are less about happiness per se and more about measuring overall wellbeing.

“Scandinavian happiness is more akin to contentedness, bordering on smugness,” he told The Independent.

Cope believes one of the reasons why the Scandis are such a smiley bunch, while we Brits seldom make it into the top 20, is down to basic societal distinctions.

“The challenge is to stick a Dane on the London underground during peak commuting hours and see if they can conjure any hygge,” said Cope.

“Or make a Swedish middle manager work an 18 hour day then wake him early and see if he wants to listen to the dawn chorus.”

That’s not to say it’s all sunshine and rainbows for the perennially-chipper Swedes.

Recent data from the Swedish Crime Survey shows that there's been a significant rise in the number of reported rapes in recent years.

Plus, in a report published in June 2017, the Swedish Police Authority identified 61 areas in the country that are frequently subjected to crime.

The real danger of creating buzzwords for feelings as fundamental as comfort and happiness, is that it perpetuates a problematic “flavour of the month” ideology, explains Cope.

“Finding something that works for you, and sticking with it until it becomes a habit, that’s where the real happiness action is at,” he argues.

“This gradually rewires your brain and makes you more predisposed to be happy in the long term.

"Flitting from one buzzword to the next gives you a short term but unsustainable happiness hit.”

Not to mention the fact that abiding by hygge all-winter-long would severely compromise your social life.

Who has time to nip to the pub when you’re hand-pouring candles and slow-cooking a vegan roast while your tea leaves soak in unicorn tears?

“It is probably just as likely to limit creativity or innovation,” argues social psychologist Dr Brock Bastian, whose book The Other Side of Happiness explains why the pursuit of pleasure is making us miserable.

While the ancient concept of hygge might have derived from an intention to help Scandis get through brutal winters, Bastian explains that it has since been widely taken out of context and is now understood as a “wonder medicine for happiness” which can put immense pressures on aspiring hygge-ers, adding that the same probably goes for hopeful lykke-ers.

“Seeking comfort all of the time is unlikely to produce much happiness if it is not contrasted with discomfort of some kind,” he told The Independent.

“When we rush out to buy a cosy sheepskin throw, a blond wood table and a set of candles for drinking our tea, we might just as easily be disappointed that we did not feel as happy as we expected to feel," he says.

“Fetishising different approaches to happiness, or even just happiness itself, tends to produce ironic outcomes.”

So, where does this leave us on our route to living a more joyful, hygge/lykke-filled life?

“Happiness can only ever come from one place – your thinking,” Cope explains.

“After studying happy Brits for 12 years, the conclusion is that they have developed mental habits that allow them to see, hear and feel the world differently, thus maximising their happiness potential.”

“Stop copying Denmark and look around at the happiest people in your life. Who are they, why are they so happy? My advice is to do more of what they’re doing.”

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