Every year, the World Happiness Index surveys numerous people from various countries around the world in search of, as the name implies, which country has the happiest population. Denmark always comes in among the top three happiest countries in the world. But what makes the Danes so happy? The welfare system is notoriously one of the most comprehensive in the world starting from tax-funded healthcare, free education, 37 hours a week working hours, mutual trust, shared purpose, generosity and good governance.
What is the secret of the Danish model? Besides the comfortable welfare system, is there an art of living infused by the concept of “Hugge” that other countries could get inspired by?
According to the dictionary, Hugge is “a quality of coziness (feeling warm, comfortable, and safe) that comes from doing simple things such as lighting candles, baking, or spending time at home with your family.” I also really like the following definition: “the absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming; taking pleasure from the presence of gentle, soothing things”, according to the land of Nord.
But having spent some time in the country, I came to realize that Hugge is more about a lifestyle, a state of mind and a philosophy. It is about living a life filled with belonging and warmth, comfort and contentment. It is about appreciating the little things in life, leading a simple, minimalistic and sustainable life through how you think, what you buy, what you eat and how you look. It is in many ways in contraction with the consumerism model very present in most Western well-developed societies that encourages an acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts. Besides its mental and societal effects, the negative effects of consumerism include the depletion of natural resources and pollution of the Earth.
I traveled to Copenhagen to better understand what the Danish art of living well looks like in practice.
Open your mind to culture
Working less hours, means more time for culture, opening up your mind to new ideas and perspectives. I had the opportunity to experience the Royal Danish Theatre, which has been located at Kongens Nytorv in Copenhagen since 1748. It was originally designated as the king’s theatre but with public access. Today, the Royal Danish Theatre comprises the Old Stage, located by Kongens Nytorv, the Opera House and the Royal Danish Playhouse. My favorite was the Old Stage, a breathtaking piece of architecture from the baroque featuring decorated ceilings, golden angels and crystal chandeliers. I recommend visiting this precious piece of history whether it is for a concert of just to explore the architecture. I am told that is one of Danes favorite cultural spot to enjoy with family.
Buy less but better
Here, I wanted to highlight three inspiring Danish interior design brands rooted in authenticity, craftmanship and quality that represent the Danish art of living well.
Muubs might be one of my favorite interior design brands. Guided and driven by an instinctive love of the beauty and Nordic nature, the brand is committed to preserving originality and creating timeless interior design objects with great functionality. The brand collaborates with local and global craftsmen around the world who take pride in creating fabulous handmade and authentic products. I am obsessed with the Jar Echo 100 which is a perfect example of innovation, elegance and craftsmanship. Probably one of the most beautiful jars I have ever seen that is available on the market…
Another inspiring brand that I discovered is Spring Copenhagen. The brand’s purpose is to inspire to better everyday living by creating products that inspire people around the world to better everyday life. Ambitious right? The name “Spring” refers to the season where everything grows, but indeed also to feelings of rejuvenation, renewal and the celebration of ideas coming to life. Their products are characterized by impeccable quality and craftsmanship. In order to do so, they involve renowned, forgotten, unknown and upcoming designers and idea makers to create products that age with grace and last for generations to come. My favorite is the Spaltekanden, medium model nr. 64, a timeless and elegant jar.
Finally, there is Kähler, a brand focused on Nordic design with 175-year-old heritage and tradition. Fun fact: Kähler’s ceramics made an impression at the 1889 World Exhibition in Paris – at which the Eiffel Tower was inaugurated. With handicraft experience passed down from generation to generation and great insight into the versatile moulding potential of clay, Kähler has now been at the cutting edge of Danish ceramic art for more than 175 years. And the products speak for themselves. I am obsessed with the green Unico vase made of ceramic with a unique glaze that settles naturally, heavily and randomly on the ceramic.
New Nordic, sustainable food
In this section, I am sharing with you my top recommended restaurants focused on Nordic gastronomy and sustainability that I had the opportunity to personally experience.
First things first, there is Barr, a beautiful and tastefully designed casual restaurant and bar, a place to drop by with friends or family for a beer and a snack, a quick dinner, or a full impressive tasting menu offering. This is where top chefs have dinner when they are not working, I am told. The menu has a strong focus on exotic beer and aquavit as well as traditional but also creative specialties of the Northern Sea Cuisine. The restaurant is located in the old Noma. My favorites were the fried and pickled herring as well as the delightful pork schnitzel. A dream come true!
My culinary journey continued with a visit at STUDIO, a place created to connect with the sea. The restaurant is located on the first floor of the iconic art deco building, The Standard, beautifully located at the quay of Copenhagen’s Inner Harbour. The restaurant is decorated with elegant Nordic interior and a breathtaking view of the water. It is specialized in modern Scandinavian food seen through an international lense with a focus on the local produce of the season. The British Head Chef, Alan Bates, is impressive, creative and delightful to be around. Although he is trained in the French cuisine and has previously worked at El Cellar de Can Roca in Girona, Alan’s personal preferences and curiosity also points towards Asia. Don’t forget to try the very refined turbot & dashi tart!
Mielcke & Hurtigkarl is another exceptional place you can’t miss. This is a breathtaking and extremely charming restaurant located in the Royal Danish Horticultural Gardens, which date back to 1830. Dining at the restaurant is like a walk in the park, a feeling of being rooted in Danish nature. The menu starts with a series of appetizers that open the palate and the mind. The kitchen presents a series of 3, 5 or 7 courses with distinct culinary authorship – achieved through relentless technique and respect for the seasons. The wine selection was also impressive, a symphony of classic and innovative wines carefully selected by the lovely Sommelier.
Finally, I also had the opportunity to dine at Jordanear, which basically means ‘Down to Earth’ in Danish. The restaurant could not have had a better name, to be honest. Many of the ingredients are foraged by the talented and passionate chef, Eric Kragh Vildgaard, who offers new Nordic and sustainable dishes with a focus on fish. The restaurant recently added a second star to their page in the Michelin guide, which we all agree, is highly deserved. Being at the restaurant almost feels like being invited at Tina and Eric Vildgaard’s home for an intimate dinner. The atmosphere is relaxed but sophisticated, minimalist but generous. Sustainability is not only in the food, it’s also about how the restaurant is being managed. The restaurant gives employees an extra day of free time and is very focused on recycling. My favorite was the scallop dish with pear and green rhubarb. Best meal in Copenhagen!
Less is more
Finally, if you have been to Denmark, you might have noticed that femininity has a different meaning here. Casual but classy, Danish women look effortless, minimalist and elegant, from clothes to attitude all the way through hairstyle. I wanted to learn more and experience it myself, so I visited Frisør Stone, a well-renowned hair salon focused on excellence and sustainability. Honestly, this is one of the best hair salons I have been. And trust me, I have been to many. The salon is located in a charming little street in the center. The place is minimalist but very elegant. From the moment you step in, the owner and his team take great care of you. An entire hour is dedicated to your haircut because perfection is the goal here. All products used are sustainable. They even offer you a hot beverage with delicious cookies. This is a must go place if you are in town. Once you have tried it, there is no way back.