Meik Wiking on hygge, happiness and his bestselling book

We've fallen in love with the idea of hygge here in the Best Served office, and it's no surprise – as our home city of London gets dark and dreary this winter, it's encouraging to find that not everyone see the glass as half-empty. The idea of hygge – taking pleasure in life's small comforts – is so simple and elegant that it is almost quintessentially Danish.

We've been running a giveaway for a trip to Copenhagen, so you can experience hygge right in its homeland of Denmark. Inspired by the bestselling Little Book of Hygge, we asked its author (and, incidentally, founder of the Danish Happiness Research Institute) Meik Wiking to sit down with us and answer a few questions. 

Pssst – before you read this, we recommend brewing a cuppa and snuggling into a cosy chair... And don't forget to scroll to the bottom to see how you could win a free copy of the book!

Why do you think hygge is taking off as such a popular concept right now? Particularly for Brits, is there something specific that we’ve been missing that the idea of hygge can provide?

There is so much interest in Denmark and the rest of Scandinavia because these countries often rank highly in the happiness lists. I do believe that Denmark can be a source of inspiration for how countries can increase the quality for their citizens and, perhaps, after all the drama in The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge we all need something a little more comforting; a little more hygge.

I think the British have been embracing hygge to an extent already – but it’s always good to become conscious of when you’re practising this way of life, and to really work toward creating hygge-time every day. Hygge gives us the language, the objective and the methods for planning and preserving happiness – and for getting a little bit more of it every day. Hygge may be the closest we come to happiness when we arrive home after a long day’s work on a cold, rainy day in January.

Related, why do you think hygge is a particularly Danish idea?

Hygge is to Denmark what freedom is to America – it’s part of our cultural and historical DNA and it’s not a lifestyle trend to us but a way of life that’s ingrained into us all from a very young age.

Plus, the Danes are exceptionally good at decoupling wealth and wellbeing. After our basic needs are met, we realise that more money doesn’t lead to happiness and, instead, we focus on what brings us a better quality of life.

Since researching for The Little Book of Hygge, I also believe it is largely down to them living the hygge way. We focus on the small things that really matter, including spending more quality time with friends and family and enjoying the good things in life.

You founded the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen – what have you learned about happiness since it began in 2013? Any surprising discoveries?

As CEO of Copenhagen's Happiness Research Institute, I have been committed to finding out what makes people happy across the world.

It’s incredibly important. More and more people and countries are coming to a point where they are questioning the way of measuring happiness. I think people are beginning to realise that we have decoupled wealth and wellbeing, and have failed to convert wealth into wellbeing – at a country level and also at a personal level. South Korea, for instance, has experienced tremendous growth and wealth but they are still really struggling to convert that into quality of life.

Perhaps the most surprising discovery has been how alike we actually are across the globe when it comes to happiness. I think we overestimate our differences. We may be from Denmark, the UK, the US, China or India - but we are first are foremost humans.

The book itself is printed quite beautifully – was it important to you that reading the book be hyggelig in itself?

Absolutely. When I was writing the book I imagined readers curled up on their sofa with a blanket and hot drink – feeling inspired by a hyygelig life. Therefore I wanted the design to reflect this as well as to embrace and reflect Scandinavian design. Just as hygge is a hug without necessarily the physical touch, I wanted the reading experience of The Little Book of Hygge to feel calming, therapeutic and comforting.

Is hygge a form of mindfulness? Or, since it seems to hinge on external surroundings, is it fundamentally different?

I get that question a lot - and I do understand people ask - because there might be some similarities. Both focus on being present and savouring simple pleasures (like mindful eating). But I think to us Danes, we see mindfulness as a trend - and something that is practiced from time to time - where hygge is part of our culture (in other words not a trend) and something that is part of our every day.

Do you find people are misunderstanding anything about hygge? If so, what misconceptions would you like to clear up?

I think some people think hygge is a fad that will come and go but I want people to realise that this isn’t a trend but a way of life that can positively improve everyone’s every day happiness.

In the book, you talk about some of your favourite spots in Copenhagen for a hygge experience. If you had only two nights in the city, what are the top one or two places or experiences you recommend?

I would spend the day cycling around the city, experiencing how it is to live here, have some smorrebrod and a snaps at Nyhavn for lunch - and if it is the summertime finish the day with a beer at Kajakbar - an informal habourside bar in the inner city.

Is there anything else you want to share with people about hygge, the book, the Happiness Institute, etc?

While I hope my words have been illuminating, perhaps Benjamin Franklin said it best: 'Happiness consists more in the small conveniences of pleasures that occur every day, than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom to a man in the course of his life.'

Want to win a copy of The Little Book of Hygge? Click here by 11:59pm on 15 December to enter.

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