The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

I’ve been reading lots about the Danish concept of hygge recently, it doesn’t have a direct translation in English (or any language apparently) though I like to think that it’s quite close to the Welsh cwtch. I tend to get a bit of Seasonal Affective Disorder in the winter, so was keen to learn more about the Danish secret for surviving winters with only three hours of sunlight a day. Anyway, during this course of this reading where I came across interesting blogs like Hello Hygge and Hygge House, I came across The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell.

A successful journalist, Helen was quick to spot that the Danes are routinely rated the happiest people in the world. So when her husband was offered his dream job at Lego’s headquarters in Billund, she decided to go freelance and investigate the Danish secret of happiness and see how she could apply these to her own life.

In some ways the concept sounds a little bit like Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, both books are structured to apply different “happiness lessons” on a month by month basis. But while Rubin alludes to large amounts of research then tends towards anecdote, The Year of Living Danishly actually delivers concrete statistics to back up numerous, very entertaining observations and recollections. If The Happiness Project is the prim, preachy and slightly inauthentic maiden Aunt (I’m not sure you should be allowed to give us proles tips on keeping your home free from clutter when you employ a cleaner…) The Year of Living Danishly reads like an old friend you could let your hair down with. Within ten pages, I’d woken the baby giggling at Russell’s turn of phrase. Worth it.

Though the book touches on some of the darker sides of Denmark (high rates of violence against women) it does tend to focus on the positive takeaways, which is kind of the point in a book on why everyone is so happy- if you want to debunk the Scandi myth there are other books for that kind of thing. What I would say though is that the causes of happiness that it identifies are highly credible and most of them are changes you could easily adopt into your own life (bar genetics and a secure social welfare system).

I’d really recommend this book. My boyfriend rolls his eyes every time I bring up a fact from the book, but we have a box set of The Bridge and I’m already plotting a city break to Copenhagen.


8 thoughts on “The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

  1. orange

    Interesting! I just came back from a trip to Iceland and the Arctic Circle (Norway and Finland’s northernmost areas), and was wondering how the long-term effect of such long nights would affect one. I will look it up — we are at the height of summer here in Aus (going from -40C to +43C in less than a week was a bit of a jolt, combined with jet lag!) but the winters in Melbourne are always dismal and I tend to get quite miserable.

    1. Siobhan Post author

      I bet that was a shock to the system. I think I’d perish in 43 degree heat, but I wouldn’t mind stealing a little of your sunshine. How was your trip?

      1. orange

        The trip was heavenly… Northern lights, ice hotels, driving my own team of huskies over frozen lakes and through silent deep snowy Lapland forests… I need to write it up on my own blog as it was really the adventure of a lifetime, I’m so spoilt!

  2. hellomistermagpie

    Sounds interesting! I find myself agreeing with Scandi philosophies on most aspects of life, so I’ll have to give it a read. As for the eye rolling…I receive the same reaction here when mentioning a book called The Highly Sensitive Child…I joke you not! 😉 x

    1. Siobhan Post author

      She had me at kanelsnegle…It’s definitely worth a read. But don’t buy a copy! Just remind me in a few weeks and that’s a birthday present sorted 😉

    1. Siobhan Post author

      Me too! I think it’s a basic instinct to hunker down under a warm blanket with tea and a good book. I have to say though, I struggle with the whole Danes love exercise part of it and may have bought three packs of biscuits when we went shopping tonight. Oops!


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