The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

Book – Helen Russell is a magazine journalist, living in London with her husband. Their days are filled with commuting and long hours at work. Their evenings are packed with social engagements and alcohol. They have been trying unsuccessfully to conceive for a couple of years. Helen dreams of retirement at the age of 33. Then, Helen’s husband gets an unexpected offer to work for Lego in Jutland.

Helen begins to research the country of five and a half million people, and discovers that they pay high taxes, get free healthcare, free education and subsidized daycare. Danes average a 34 hour workweek. And, according to the UN World Happiness Report, Denmark is the happiest country on earth. Helen and her husband decide to move to Denmark and this book documents their first year of living in their adopted country.

Helen’s chatty writing style and witty observations entertained me. She shares her experiences with food, relationships, religious traditions and the many unwritten “rules” she encounters. The Year of Living Danishly was an enjoyable exploration of a different culture and a lifestyle change. If you like this book, you may also want to read Happy as a Dane or the Little Book of Hygge.

How to Hygge: The Nordic Secrets to a Happy Life by Signe Johansen

9781509834860How to HyggeBook – Hygge (pronounced HOO-gah) is a Danish word meaning a quality of coziness that engenders a feeling of well-being. It’s living simply and finding pleasure and beauty in everyday moments. Johansen describes this lifestyle as it applies to the home, food and friendship. She emphasizes the importance of nature and the restorative powers of spending time outside (versus exercising in a gym). The connection to the outdoors extends to socializing. Gatherings celebrate the seasons and kinship, with simple meals of fish, berries, bread and pastries and “boozy beverages” as “attitude adjusters.” Hygge encourages the “healthy hedonism” of savoring delicious pastries, coffee, bread, wine – in moderation. She includes recipes for treats that sound delicious (but not simple to prepare). A hygge home features an abundance of candlelight and lighting sources, cozy blankets, fresh flowers and organic materials. Cleanliness and order are imperative to relaxation and contentment. This enjoyable book gave me a term to describe my own upbringing by my Norwegian mother. I feel a renewed commitment to hygge concepts, some of which I have always practiced and some that I would benefit from more fully embracing (got to get more active!). If you want to read more about hygge, try The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking.

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee

Book – I admit it, I have watched Hoarders. It’s fascinating and horrifying all at once, and even while I felt like a bad person for watching these people’s lives splashed all over TV, I couldn’t look away. But what’s really going on when someone hoards? What are they thinking, and when they’re putting themselves in danger, how can we help them? Randy Frost is one of the few psychologists studying hoarding and its treatments – most therapists and psychiatrists say that it can’t be treated at all – and Stuff is his explanation, for a popular audience, of exactly what’s going on here.

According to Frost, hoarding happens on a spectrum, and a lot of things that are pathological in hoarders are things we all do – using our things as a way to express our identity, for instance, or using our things as a kind of security blanket. This is a little unsettling to read, to be honest, because you can see just how short the distance is from “I am most comfortable when surrounded by my own things” to “I can’t cope with my things going away.” He explains why dramatic clean-outs like they do on TV almost never work, and why they’re sometimes dangerous. I found the whole thing fascinating, and it certainly prompted me to re-think of my own relationship to my stuff.