In case the title doesn’t give it away I’ve just finished reading Helen Russell’s, The Year Of Living Danishly. I have since been recommending it to anyone who will listen and prattling off statistics about the utopia that is Denmark. Seriously though, it is a great read. Not only is it entertaining and witty, you actually learn a fair bit about the Danish culture and traditions. By the end I found myself surprisingly emotional and totally invested in the life of this couple who had left London-based careers behind them and taken this massive leap of faith.
The book is a lovely mix of personal anecdotes and charming tales which run right alongside research and studies, all of which support the thinking that Danes are some of the happiest people in the world. Every Dane she met she asked to score themselves out of ten for happiness: I don’t think I can think of one that was under seven and the majority were higher. She moved there a sceptic, convinced that they couldn’t possibly be THAT happy, but her time there is a lesson to all of us. She finished by suggesting ten things we can do in our own lives to ‘live danishly’ and get that feeling of happiness and security. Although some of it is obviously tongue in cheek I think this last part is what everyone should really take away from reading this book.
I won’t share them all here, because I really want everyone to read the book, but it’s about living life just a little more simply and making the most of all that is around you. In Denmark, they are big on community and family, on work/life balance; they’ve realised that having a happy workforce makes for a more productive workforce and therefore make sure it isn’t all about the hours spent at a desk. There is a big emphasis on clubs, finding something you love to do, getting out and doing it and sharing that love with others. They look out for their neighbours (and make sure they follow the rules!) but the biggest thing for me is that they have a sense of trust that we just don’t have in Britain. It’s sounds so simple to trust each other but I don’t think it is something that comes naturally to the British, maybe that is to do with the way our country is run more than anything else. Sometimes I feel we are so quick to judge without offering help or even our empathy. Denmark has some of the highest taxes in the world and yet all the people she interviewed were happy to pay them because they trust that they will be put to the best use and ultimately that is to their benefit. Sounds almost too good to be true, right? And of course they are also the home of the cinnamon swirl, or ‘snegle’ which is reason to be happy alone.
After finishing the book, despite the desire to pack my bags and move to Denmark, I felt even more determined to live simply, to be kinder, to share, to trust. I talk all the time about how much I love to just get outside with the boys, it doesn’t cost us anything and it never fails to make us happy. We’re are trying to cut down all the ‘stuff’ we own and focusing on what we actually need, it will take a while but I’m working on making our house a home that I love. I couldn’t talk about Denmark without mentioning hygge; it goes without saying I’m on board with this – lighting candles, drinking tea, eating cake…or pastries, it ticks all the boxes for me. I baked a cake at a crazy hour of the morning and loved how it filled the home with the most amazing smell. (It was a banana and cardamom cake and it’s as good as it sounds – I used the recipe from The Simple Things if you fancy making your own). The boys came and licked the whisks, still in their pyjamas and watched it rise through the oven door. I tried to take a photo in the early morning light as they attempted to poke it and steal corner pieces. Eventually we wrapped it up to take to my Mums – she had invited us all for lunch and it felt good to just be together, share nice food and an enjoy an afternoon glass of prosecco.
Sometimes I feel it is as if we are always striving for that happiness in our lives instead of just stopping and enjoying what we have. I started this year determined to embrace the simple life and reading this book has just reinforced how much I believe in that.