The Little Book of Hygge, toddlers, and relaxation

img_2521The 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).

28 thoughts on “The Little Book of Hygge, toddlers, and relaxation

  1. There must be some Hygge that would work with young children…

    Perhaps, watching a movie as a family (curled up under the blankets, with wine and chocolate for grown-ups).

    A short-term Hygge-like activity that we’ve been indulging in – marble run. Everyone over the age of 5 is designing/building and the 2-year old is testing them with marbles. After a while things tend to disintegrate, with kids getting into squabbles over the marbles (the 2-year old wants to have them all!). Still, there is something immensely satisfying (and nearly hypnotic) about marble runs. I know they sell these for really young kids, too – with marbles too big to be stuffed in mouths.

    1. Marble runs are awesome! In the summer, check out Stomp Rockets if you have the space outside to launch foam rockets. Equally fun for all ages. =)

  2. Yes, hygge is definitely having a moment. I’ve read several articles lately and I think they are great tips to implement after 8 pm. Ha!

  3. My husband and I recently did a large jigsaw puzzle on the dining room table. We found that our 16 month old was willing to play under the table for some of the time. Other times she was interested in poking the puzzle pieces. Like so much with a 16 month old, everything was done in 5 minute intervals, but you know what? that’s ok. You can do a puzzle like that. 🙂 Sometimes it’s even easier to make a “fit” if you go away and come back multiple times.

  4. Young children are a challenge! They are perpetual motion machines! In my opinion, hygge will be different with small children because it is about all of you as a family versus the hygge you might enjoy as a couple or an individual (after the kids are in bed). Kids need physical activity desperately as that is how their brains develop, so accommodate that need with your activities. When our kids were small we would go for long walks outside (the youngest in a sled that she could climb in and out of at will, which she did about every other minute and was tons of fun for her). The point isn’t going a certain distance, the point is to get some fresh air and movement even if you don’t make it off the street because the kids are all over the snowbanks climbing and sliding. 🙂 By the way, there was no discussion about wanting to go for a walk, we were going for a walk and I had a pocket full of lifesavers to keep mouths occupied that might otherwise be complaining about it. 🙂 An hour of playing together outside will make a two year old more willing to cuddle up on the couch and have a story, or play quietly on the floor while you and the older ones play a board game or do a puzzle. They just want to be included. Often my husband would play a game with the older ones while I sat on the floor with the younger one and we played our own game, but we were all together in the same room chatting back and forth. Building forts out of blankets in the living room was another great ‘keep the little ones occupied’ game. The older ones had fun building and the younger ones had fun crawling in and out. The adults could enjoy some coffee and conversation in relative peace. It is worth spending time creating kid-friendly hygge because when they get older they have the association that it is fun to hang out and relax with mum and dad. Our kids are now 17, 15 and 11 and it is not uncommon for us to spend a Friday or Saturday night curled up on the couch with blankets watching a (non-animated, finally!) movie together with a fire, candles, wine (for the adults), and just enjoying being together. It is the reward for surviving the toddler years! 🙂 Although I still have problems with the 17 year old messing with the candles!

    1. I love them, too.

      I also am planning on trying for a 3rd child and would have the exact same age spread if things work out (of course no guarantees), so this comment made me doubly happy!

      1. @SHU – you decided to go for a third??? (I also read your blog so knew that you were thinking about it.) Woohoo! Hope it goes well.

    2. @Sonya – thanks for this. And I’m laughing about the 17-year-old and the candles. Frankly, my husband is a bit more taken with fire than I like! When we do make a fire in the fire pit outside he keeps messing around with it. Too many cub scout shenanigans back in the day, I think.

    3. OMG, the Lifesavers to stop complaining tip is AWESOME. I’m totally doing this on our next family “hike” because the complaining about a 30 min walk in the woods is often non-stop 🙂

        1. If only they could put as much creativity into creative writing assignments as they put into complaining, homework would be a lot less painful! Along with the lifesavers, my other big trick for complaints is deaf ears and distracting their attention to anything that might be remotely interesting. They reach an age when they are big enough to suck a lifesaver and still keep talking! 🙂

      1. I learned this trick from my mum. There’s a reason why the stereotype of grandma’s with a purse full of peppermints exists! 🙂

  5. My husband and I often daydream together about the old days of sleeping in late on the weekend. Having young children definitely forces you to enjoy “leisure time” differently and often in scattered chunks of time. I love the concept of hygge and agree that there are ways to incorporate it into your winter activities with little ones. We have fires in our wood-burning stove while we watch movies together. We just make sure to block off access to the stove to keep the kids safe – usually with toys, because we’re usually surrounded by them anyway.

  6. I love this post.

    I also want you to keep having babies so that you continue to remember how tough toddlers. I feel like everyone (including me) seems to get amnesia!

    1. @SHU- people do get amnesia! But hopefully my notes and time logs from this time will serve as a reminder. That’s probably easier than having a fifth (sixth, seventh, etc.) 🙂

  7. I totally can relate to the parts that are tough with little ones! Although with an almost 4 year old we can light candles again (on the counter, not somewhere he can easily reach) but the snow days spent entirely under blankets reading are long gone!

  8. If you enjoyed that book, I recommend My Year of Living Danishly. Lots of hygge, but also just practical everyday things the Danes do differently that contributes to happiness.
    As kids get older it’s amazing how much things change. I actually enjoyed our last beach trip because I got to be still and not worry someone was going to drown. However, I found my teenage son had found some older teens to hang out with and ended with him in trouble. Its a mixed bag, but there are some perks.

    1. LOVE that book! 🙂

      Seems that a book on hygge for toddlers is just begging to be written! I bet the Danes are experts at toddler taming, the very though of entertaining tiny ones through wild winters with only 4 hours of daylight…

  9. With Hygge as with everything time management or life really, expectations are everything.

    If you lower your hygge expectations to 15 – 20 minutes at a stretch, there are easily ways to incorporate hygge with younger kids.

    Cuddling under the blankets for a story, having some hot chocolate, watching 10 minutes of a movie, sharing a yummy treat.

    I remember people asking when my twins were little how I got so much reading done and I said, “I’m prepared… always…. and I take any time I can get”. Granted, not easy to sink into a novel for 15-minute stretches but when the toddler is occupied next to you on the bed, take what you can get.

  10. Heh I do find it a LITTLE funny that you are complaining (light-heartedly, I realize) about an author forgetting that people might have toddler since one of the main criticisms I’ve seen (and share) of your books is that you forget not everyone has so much money. Privilege of a different sort, I suppose!

  11. As a second-generation Danish-American, I’ve learned that, like love, hygge cannot be created, it sneaks up on you. And if you have a toddler awake, all bets are off. Your best chance for hygge is when he falls asleep in your lap to the hum of storytelling, or in 17 years.

  12. As a Dane, I think ‘hygge’ is something that is quite hard to define. I’ve been thinking about it since my Indian colleague asked me what hygge is. I would describe hygge as having a good time that is not up-tempo. You can have a hyggelig night out if you go to bar and chat over beers or wine; going to a night club and dancing the night away is not hyggeligt.
    About the candles: which candles do you have as your normal candles? In Denmark, we use tealights a lot and we keep them in holders outside the reach of small children so they can contribute to the hygge without the risk of fire.
    Laura, if you need advice regarding travelling in Denmark and to Legoland, please get in touch – I would be happy to help you.

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