When Hygge Met Sally

The dictionary meanings of hygge written with a background image of a huge dim lit dining area with glasses, candles and coffee mugs

When Danish crime drama The Killing hit international TV screens, viewers went crazy for the main character’s hand-knitted jumpers and the beautiful lamps that appeared in nearly every interior – almost as much as the plot lines. Thus the concept of ‘hygge’ was introduced to the world.

Except that no one knew its name. Nor did the wider world realize it was even a concept. That is until some savvy publishers sought out Danish ‘experts’ to explain that it takes more than some diffused lighting and a few hand-knitted jumpers to create the incredible sense of coziness that is the source of national pride.

And while this could just have manifested as a predominantly interior design trend, publishers were quick to also capitalize on the fact that hygge is a way of thinking, not just a way of decorating, and extended the trend to a range of craft, cook and lifestyle publications.

Publishers should feel suitably pleased with their efforts. Hygge is big business; there are more than 500 titles covering the topic on the Amazon UK site alone and buyer interest shows little sign of slowing.

In much the same way that 1990s publishing sensation The Little Book of Calm was a reaction against the work/life imbalance, the hygge trend offers the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of today’s busy and stressful lifestyles.

The introduction to each aspirational title proclaims the Danish people’s standing as the happiest and healthiest in Europe, and puts it all down to the restorative powers of hygge. The implication is that if you knit your own blankets, make some homemade soup and light a few candles then you too can be as happy and healthy as the Danish. Except that is nonsense. There’s obviously more to hygge than that.

In a Guardian podcast, Charlotte Higgins comments that it has been: “Used to sell everything from fluffy socks to vegan shepherd’s pie.” The publications also readily mix and match concepts from other Nordic countries as being hygge – much to the puzzlement of the Danes. Then there’s the fact that almost none of the books are published by people who are actually Danish. In a Publishing Perspectives article, CEO of Danish publishing house Strandberg Publishing Lars Erik Strandberg is asked why there are no hygge books on the Danish market, he replies: “Because our perception of hygge is very different from the way ‘Danish hyggeis marketed and perceived abroad.”

What he means by this, of course, is that it is purely a marketing trend started by publishers to sell a product. Ironically, it isn’t even a marketing trend that the Danish are benefitting from, as Standberg comments “We should have put together existing material in a book and sold the rights… Too bad, we missed this one!

So the hygge trend is a little like the Mark Twain quote: “Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.” Publishers have seized on the zeitgeist to sell a comforting concept from the happiest nation in Europe, does it really matter if it has been moulded and shaped by marketers to fit? Not really, the books are still selling like hot Kanelsnegle (Danish cinnamon cakes) and for the readers looking at the Danish way of life, or at least the aspirational way of life that’s being presented by the hygge books, it’s a case of “I’ll have what she’s having.”

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