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The Year of Living Danishly
Uncovering the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country
'A hugely enjoyable romp through the pleasures and pitfalls of setting up home in a foreign land' PD Smith, Guardian
When she was suddenly given the opportunity of a new life in rural Jutland, journalist and archetypal Londoner Helen Russell discovered a startling statistic: the happiest place on earth isn't Disneyland, but Denmark, a land often thought of by foreigners as consisting entirely of long dark winters, cured herring, Lego and pastries.
What is the secret to their success? Are happy Danes born, or made?
Helen decides there is only one way to find out: she will give herself a year, trying to uncover the formula for Danish happiness.
From childcare, education, food and interior design (not to mention 'hygge') to SAD, taxes, sexism and an unfortunate predilection for burning witches, The Year of Living Danishly is a funny, poignant record of a journey that shows us where the Danes get it right, where they get it wrong, and how we might just benefit from living a little more Danishly ourselves.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
When the writer and her husband decided to move to Denmark, a country known for Lego, high taxes and an even higher happiness rate, they attempted to live Danishly to see if they could be as happy as the Danes are purported to be. They immersed themselves into Danish culture, from the pastries to dancing cow festivals. It was a year of social experiment but there was never a dull moment. Searching for happiness can be quite stressful, as the writer found out when she tried most of the things that Danes do to have a more fulfilling life. It was quite a change from her fast-paced London life centered around her job. The Danes love scheduling their leisure time weeks and even months in advance, they consider having a hobby as essential to living a good life. They don't just sit around watching TV, they go out and make clubs and when there is friction within a club, they go and create a rival club. After reading this book, i googled ways on making my home 'hygge'. It's the Danish way of making your home as cosy and comfortable as possible, they do love their furniture.
Reading about their impressive work-life balance made me want to move to Denmark. It seems to be part of your job to ensure you have enough time for your family, hobbies and travel. In July, most offices are empty because they're jetsetting all over the world! The taxes are nothing to be envious about though, except that when you think about their high quality of life the taxes seem worth it. It's a country where every one looks out for one another.
I would recommend this book to people who are thinking of moving to another country to restart their life and I would highly recommend this book to people who are thinking of moving or traveling to Denmark. When you've had enough of touristy guide books, this is the book for you. It's written with the English sense of humor and it will make you laugh out loud and a little less lonely in a foreign country with a very difficult language.
I couldn’t wait to get stuck into this book, I love traveling and coming out of winter I think we are all thinking about changes to our lives so having only visited Denmark once I was really interested to find out why the Danish are so happy. The book starts when the author, Helen Russell is asked by her husband if she would like to move away from London for a year as he has been offered a job at Lego, Billund. At first she is reluctant but disillusioned by London’s work life balance, or lack of it, and worn down by her inability to conceive she decides to up sticks and leave London behind. Quitting her journalist job at a glossy magazine she decides to go freelance and find out the secret’s behind the world’s happiest country.
The book tells the tale of the first year in rural Jutland from the dark bleak winters to the long summer days and everything in-between. It’s packed full of facts about the Country, both good and bad and gives a brilliant insight to the Danish culture. Helen spends her days, being nosy, as she puts it, interviewing people from various walks of life and finding out why they are so happy. Most seem to be an 8 or 9 out of 10 which is a far cry from most friends and family I know so it makes for interesting reading. Part of the way through the first year Helen unexpectedly finds out she is pregnant which she puts down to the fact she is more relaxed and carefree than in her busy London life. Lego Man, as she calls her husband throughout the book, loves life in Denmark and when his contract gets extended for another year he wants to stay on. Helen is undecided but on the birth of their baby boy they have a serious rethink.
This book is a must for anyone disillusioned with their life or just thinking of making a change. It’s told in a pragmatic but humorous way, teaches you a lot about the Danish people and sums up each month with ways to bring a little Danish happiness into your own life. Highly recommended.
These were my aims for 2016:
Eat less chocolate
Spend less time on my phone
Don’t scream so much at my children
I did not achieve them.
The last one is really the most important as it has an immediate effect on my family’s and my happiness levels. Because children intuitively know when their parent is stressed out and for some inexplicable reason behave to exacerbate the fact. This year has been stressful, and I have not been at all zen about it!
So it was with hope in my heart that I opened The Year of Living Danishly. There was a chance that these pages could make my 2017 more successful than my 2016. In the first few paragraphs it made me realise the error of my expectation. Success. What is success, why do we value and desire it, and does it make us happy? The Danes are reportedly the happiest nation on the planet and Helen Russell, when circumstance uprooted her life to Denmark for a year, took it upon herself to investigate the reasons why this may be.
I could relate to Helen’s story so closely, and from the prologue I was hooked. I too have experienced an extreme disillusionment with London. It’s an amazing city, and I loved living there for many years. However for many of us the sun will rise one morning and we will feel suddenly suffocated not just by the city air, but by the constant sensation of eyes, buildings and… well… presence that exists around the clock. When I fell pregnant with my third child, claustrophobia descended apace and we chose Fleet as our escape destination. Helen Russell (who admits had anticipated a similar move to a town not too far from the M25 as opposed to Scandinavia) and her husband went further, and arguably were more successful in their pursuit of fulfilment.
The Year of Living Danishly cannot be pigeon holed. It hovers somewhere between lifestyle, travel guide, social history, self-help and comedy. Helen Russell’s writing had me laughing out loud on several occasions (already the book is improving my happiness level). She plays out action and anecdotes with such flair for comic timing that at times reading this feels a bit like watching a sitcom. Whilst simultaneously learning loads about Denmark, the Danish way of life, and what it means to be happy, I was drawn into Helen’s domestic life and was very much emotionally invested in the turns that her own life takes during the year that the book follows.
This book is a bit like a Bridget Jones’ Diary for the lifestyle revolutionary. At the end of each month we get summary bullet points of what Helen discovered about that part of life in Denmark, in a similar way to how Bridget detailed her calorie and smoking statistics. Each month is focussed around a designated aspect of the Danish lifestyle. We discover how the Danes approach this aspect of their lives and the background of why this is, are offered expert opinions and advice, and encounter the national idiosyncrasies that litter related traditions (something that we Brits like to think we have a monopoly on but it is clear that the Danes could give us a run for our money!) It’s not all roses and unicorns though and Danish life isn’t perfect; smoking and drinking to excess are certainly aspects of typical Danish society that don’t have a place in my plan for a dry January! Still, there is much to be gained from the many many things that this nation seems to get spot on.
Helen retells her story in such an engaging way, and with such a magnificent sales pitch for living in Denmark that I found it hard to not want to follow in her footsteps from the outset. Maybe one day I will. For now though I intend to incorporate a large handful of Danish thinking into my outlook for 2017, from hygge and candles to ordered living and prioritised family time. Wish me luck!
'A lovely mix of English sensibility and Danish pragmatism. Helen seems to have understood more about the Danish character than I have! My only worry is that it will make everyone want to have a go and my holiday home area will get overcrowded.' -- Sandi Toksvig 'Russell is possessed of a razor-sharp wit and a winning self-deprecation - two of the things that make this book such a delight.' * The Independent * 'A hugely enjoyable romp through the pleasures and pitfalls of setting up home in a foreign land' -- PD Smith * Guardian * 'A wryly amusing account of a new life in a strange land.' * Choice Magazine * 'if you can't up sticks and move to Denmark... don't despair: here are a few tips and tricks I've picked up for getting a slice of the Danish work-life balance wherever you are.' 'Russell's husband takes a contract with Lego and they are catapulted into rural Jutland, in Denmark.
Russell, who is a fast living journalist in London, is at first overwhelmed with the silence, the people, the sheer differences of living in a very foreign country.
She then discovers that Danish people have the highest-rated happiness scores in the world... what's their secret? Why are they so damn happy?
I'll let you know, it's a lot to do with something called "Hygge".' 'Giving up isn't always a bad thing; being a dropout can even change your life for the better. Helen Russell was a high-flying glossy magazine editor before moving to rural Jutland in Denmark which, despite its long dark winters, is also statistically the happiest nation on earth. While there, Helen soon discovered there's more to Danish life than cured herring and Nordic knits, as she described in her book, "The Year of Living Danishly".' 'Ever bought a book for a friend and ended up reading it yourself? I dipped into this and ended up buying my own copy so I could finish it' 'A hugely enjoyable autobiographical account of upping sticks... to the sticks.'