The Danish concept of "hygge" is having a moment. Much like the Norwegian "koselig," it is an elevated vision of coziness, which is key to enjoying winter in a place where it's basically dark 20 hours a day right now. People light candles. They drink warm drinks. They curl up under blankets with good books.
All this is celebrated in The Little Book of Hygge, new out from Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen. Denmark always scores high on international comparisons of happiness, and Wiking advances the thesis that yes, yes, the social welfare state is great, but the joys of hygge also might be part of it. Or something like that. The whole book is basically a long listicle. Here are 5 recipes for hygge dishes! Here are 10 objects you should have in the house for hygge! (Plus a sidebar on Danish lamp design.)
I like the Nordic countries as much as anyone, so I am always interested in learning about them. We will probably take the kids to Denmark one of these days (Legos might be involved). But anyway, as I was reading The Little Book of Hygge, I was reminded that much literature on living the good life can be divided into two categories. Is this applicable for people with small children, or not?
There is nothing wrong with writing for people without small children. They comprise a disproportionate share of the reading public! But such books make certain assumptions that those of us with toddlers simply cannot make.
For instance, lighting candles is supposed to be relaxing…but it isn't relaxing with a toddler trying to grab them.
We have a nice fireplace…but can only light fires in there after the toddler goes to sleep. Otherwise, the flames lure him in and he wants to play with the poker. So much for Sunday afternoon hygge.
Wiking waxes nostalgic about once playing a 14-hour board game. This was a very hygge way to spend a winter day. Needless to say, this would not be the same experience with a little person underfoot demanding snacks every hour. Even curling up under a blanket and staying there to watch the rain isn't going to work, because then the toddler will pull you up to go play cars, and then get bored of cars, and demand you go get him a drink of water, and then spill the water on the floor, and then while you're picking it up he's figured out how to climb onto the kitchen counter and get the glogg because he saw raisins in it… and so forth. So you go to the children's museum to get this force of destruction out of the house (though staying in the house all day is very hygge).
Obviously, the Danes do have children, so maybe they manage to train their children early in hygge-appropriate behavior (don't touch that candle!) But it strikes me that if hygge is a cause of happiness, this might explain why people with small children are often less happy than others. It is really hard to relax.
In other news: Over at Verily, I'm writing about how, By Using Your Time Wisely, You Can Build a Career and a Relationship. I've never understood those laments (I'm looking at you, Princeton Mom!) about how modern women focus on their careers to the detriment of finding someone special. There's plenty of time for both! Also, finding someone special has much in common with any uncertain project. You can't dictate the outcome, but you can control a lot about the process, which has much influence on the outcome. There are ways to make progress without it completely taking over your life.
I will likely do a FB Live chat around lunch time tomorrow about memory and time (the subject of my most recent newsletter -- I got a lot of feedback on that one!)
Photo: A fountain. Nice, pleasant thing to look at for people without toddlers. For toddlers, an alluring thing to try to jump in (or eat the coins out of).