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Scandinavians know how to live well. Or, depending who you ask, they’ve perfected the subtle Viking art of extracting money from the wallets of uptight English-speakers by recasting regular words as lucrative lifestyle trends.
Either way, we’re here for it.
It all started with hygge (pronounced hoo-gah), the untranslatable Danish word that means cosiness, togetherness, comfort and warmth all combined. Hygge-mania drove the 2016 bonanza of oversized mugs, fluffy socks, roaring fires and candles. So many candles. And in what many see as dark political times, what could be more welcome?
Well, hygge does have a dark side. Anyone who is too offbeat or out there is apt to be scolded for “spoiling the hygge,” Danish author Dorthe Nors has said, and “suppression of difference” is inherent in the idea.
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Hygge hype-man Meik Wiking, author of 2016’s Little Book of Hygge, is back this fall with a followup, The Little Book of Lykke. Lykke (luh-kah), it seems, is less complicated. It simply means happiness in Norwegian, though the word is used around the region.
But why? And why now?
Lena Karlstrom, lecturer in Swedish and Scandinavian studies at UBC, said, “I think people are intrigued by the bleak dystopian culture they meet in Scandinavian crime literature, films and TV shows … and how it is contrasted with … Scandinavians living a safe, happy life.”
Kim Sandvad West, who teaches Danish studies at UBC, thinks it has to do with the political climate: “Both Bernie Sanders and Oprah Winfrey are talking highly about Denmark and the other Scandinavian countries,” because they perennially get top marks in equality and well-being. “When getting to learn the rest of the world, Scandinavia may be a good or even easy place to start.”
He said he’d like to see the Finnish words sisu (inner drive that leads you to never give up) and kalsarikannit (staying at home in your underwear getting drunk with absolutely no intention of going anywhere) catch on next.
“I’m surprised, even as a Dane, to hear that lykke is the new thing, as it is so subjective,” West said.
One of the simplest ways to increase your happiness quickly is to drop your long-haul commute. Stop driving or toiling for an hour on the bus and bike or walk instead. If that’s not possible: “Take the stairs, have a meeting while going for a walk and park as far away from the supermarket entrance as possible,” Wiking writes.
Get to know your neighbours
The Danish enjoy so much lykke because they spend time with people who live in their immediate surroundings, Wiking writes. So build connections by creating a directory (like a mailing list) of the people who live on your street. That lets you share skills and resources and organize gatherings.
One small 2015 study found ditching Facebook for a week led to dramatically more happiness. Wiking suggests a weekly digital detox. And get as many people as possible to join you, because if everyone else is Snapchatting away, you’re going to feel lonely and left out.