Monday, 18 July 2016
"The Year of Living Danishly" Helen Russell
Denmark is officially the happiest nation on Earth. When Helen Russell is forced to move to rural Jutland, can she discover the secrets of their happiness? Or will the long, dark winters and pickled herring take their toll?
A Year of Living Danishly looks at where the Danes get it right, where they get it wrong, and how we might just benefit from living a little more Danishly ourselves.
I read about this on Twitter - it was recommended as a summer read. I ordered it through the library.
This is a really interesting but light and easy read.
Russell has divided her book into 13 chapters - one for each month of the year and an extra one for Christmas. Each looks at a different aspect of the Danish culture. My favourite chapters were "Forgetting the 9-5" and "The Kids are Alright" but there were some really fascinating insights into the Danes attitudes to equality as well. At the end of each chapter there are about four or five short summarising bullet points which capture the more flippant sense of fun in Russell's writing, for example: "Denmark is really really cold in January", "Being a toddler in Denmark is off the scale fun," and "Danes are adept at looking on the bright side even in the bleak mid winter."
Reading this book is like sitting over coffee with Russell or receiving a letter from an old friend - or maybe checking in to their blog post! Russell's writing is colloquial, humorous, relatable and contains a good balance of perspectives and areas of the Dane's culture to appeal to everyone and give a rounded account of all she experiences. It's a mix between a travel journal and a self help book - in fact the introduction is subtitled "The Happiness Project".
Indeed I am tempted to join Russell in Denmark! There seems to be a lot of interest in the Dane culture at the moment with the recent number of "Nordic Noir" tv series and crime fiction available, but perhaps the overwhelming darkness of these shows and books is misleading. It seems that the Danes are a nation of sharing folk with admirable family values, plenty of wholesome hobbies and a good sense of equality - all of which makes them proud, happy and content. I'm not sure how I would fair with the darkness of the winter but the concept of "hygge" where the whole country basically hunkers down, only socialise at home with close family, insist on a lot of eating and focus on staying cosy and warm did sound appealing. I would also be delighted if my husband was able to keep to their working hours and would love to see more businesses adopting the concept that overtime meant inefficiency!
I enjoyed this book and certainly learnt a lot about Denmark. I might not be able to move there, but what's to stop me attempting to adopt a few of their attitudes and trying to nurture my own "Happiness Project" here in Hertfordshire!
You can follow Russell on Twitter @MsHelenRussell
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