Signe Johansen is the author of the ultra popular Scandilicious cookbooks. Following the recent release of her new book How to Hygge, she gave us an insight into this way of life that has suddenly found itself at the centre of popular culture.
Ever the pragmatist Signe points out that there are several ways of saying it depending where in Scandinavia you’re coming from. Hooogah, higya – it all features, so go with what makes you comfortable.
A little more divisive however, is what it really means. It’s all too easy to reduce hygge to scented candles and woolly jumpers. (The Danes burn more candles per head than anywhere in Europe apparently.)
“It’s about cosiness, warmth and community,” says Signe, “it’s something we grew up with as a region. It’s a pan Nordic phenomenon that’s part of the culture and identity; savouring simple moments that allow you to relax and restore.”
The thing about hygge is that it’s the response to the area’s history of long, hard, dark winters. When it’s cold and dark out, you look for happiness in the little things – lovely design, family, making people feel at home.
Its wider popularity, she thinks, is the logical evolution of what has been an increasing trend over recent years to favour Scandi style. That, and the fact that for years now, Scandinavian countries, Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland and Norway have topped the polls as the world’s happiest countries.
“It’s largely cultural awareness,” says Signe, “following the interest in Nordic noir and food, the region is having a bit of a moment and lifestyle is the next step. If you love the design, culture, progressive politics then people are starting to ask if there is a way they can channel that, and the answer is a resounding yes. I think in the world we live in, in any city, life is hectic, and the constant competition and pressure is exhausting. For us hygge is a way of stepping back and thinking.”
Of course, there are always sceptics, a number of which have made their thoughts known in the press claiming that this is Scandi smugness. Signe says: “That scepticism is interesting. It slightly misses the point. Some books that come out seem to slightly reduce hygge to cosy candles, cake and socks, which is reductive and banal. It’s much more than that, it’s a whole way of life. I found that difficult in my own book as I didn’t want to be prescriptive.”
This is where hygge takes on a new level of significance, because it’s all about a feeling. Signe illustrates the point saying: there are things that are hygge and things that aren’t, which generally means not very nice. For example, if you’re very concerned with materialistic things, are hyper competitive, and see material assets as a badge of honour – that’s not hygge.”
For every person who sees the idea as smug however, there are the droves that see it as nothing short of enlightening. Signe’s own book includes 50 recipes as well as chapters on nature, the outdoors, design and community and kinship. The essence of it is to focus on simplicity and not to over complicate life in the kitchen or anywhere. “It’s about being indulgent and sharing,” she says.
We will interpret that as a natter in the hot tub, time with friends and a good dose of being kind to yourself then! That sounds like our kind of philosophy!
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