When Helen Russell’s Lego-loving husband gets a job offer at the number one toy company in the world, they decide to leave their hectic life in London and move to rural Denmark to discover the secrets to the one of the happiest countries. With her sarcastic style, Russell dives into specific Danish aspects of life each month and shares her experiences. Her stories have many laugh-out-loud moments as she realizes how different her surroundings are, and how best to adapt.
I was hooked from the beginning. The Year of Living Danishly was the perfect book to get me excited for my first trip to Denmark and to give me a small taste of Danish culture– from societal beliefs to cultural traditions. The author and her husband moved to Denmark in what possibly is the worst month of the year- January. The darkness and cold was quite a change from London’s more mild climate. I tried to imagine myself moving to a place where the sun is only up for 4 hours a day in winter. It would be a huge adjustment for me as well. I would expect this amount of darkness would make me feel somewhat depressed, so it was very interesting to find out how many Danes cope during these dark months.
Their secret? Hygge. I absolutely fell in love with this truly Danish concept as I read more about it. Hygge can best be described as getting cozy – enjoying the good things in life with family and friends. It’s about creating a warm environment, a lit candle, a blanket and snuggling up with a cup of coffee and good conversation with those you love. How wonderful!
Hygge continues even in the light-filled months of spring and summer. Russell’s book describes how when spring comes, all the Danes come out of their homes and stay out! From swimming, boating, biking and other outdoor exercise pursuits to lots and lots of socializing and partying, they live life fully with those they care about.
Russell’s book also enlightened me to some of the concepts that America just can’t get right. From truly achieving a healthy work/life balance to gender equality, the Danes have figured out how to accomplish many societal concepts successfully. I also gleaned that one thing that keeps many Danes happy is actually taking action when they are unhappy! So, if their job is not fulfilling or their marriage is not working out, they change it. Both divorce and job changes seem to be perceived in a much more negative light in America, but from what I read, it seems it is just a process that many may go through to continue to be happy. (Note: With many progressive government programs, leaving a job more frequently, or divorce say, seems to be less daunting for Dane’s then it may be for American’s. For instance, the government has many programs in place to help with unemployment. Also, since it’s culturally more acceptable for employees to experience this fluctuation with hiring and job changes it is most likely not seen as negative to change jobs, but positive.)
So, if you are off to Denmark, or are just curious at what makes Danes always rank their happiness levels high, I highly recommend this read. The Year of Living Danishly is an entertaining way to learn cultural facts and observations while also being highly amused by the life of an expat in Denmark.