Tall order, right? Being happy when, quite frankly, it’s miserable outside. But, you know what? It can be done. It’s just about changing your mindset. Despite the fact that parts of the continent are much colder and darker than the UK, Scandinavians are allegedly the happiest people on earth. So, clearly they must know something we don’t. And, Shaun Russell co-founder of Skandinavisk, a gorgeous candle company that I recently discovered knows what that is. Having met a Danish girl who is now his wife, British ex-pat Shaun has lived in Sweden and Denmark for over 13 years. Together with Gerry Kingham, a fellow ex-pat who fell in love with his own Scandi girl and the continent, he founded Skandinavisk, a lifestyle company which celebrates Scandinavia and its way of life through gorgeous products such as candles and porcelain. In a blatant ‘I’ll have what he’s having’ kind of way, we wanted to get some tips on just how we can channel some Nordic positivity and face the coming winter with a new outlook.
Scandinavia is dark and cold during the winter months, but the region is home to some of the happiest people on earth. Why do you think this is?
Many reasons, but specific to winter, it’s because they embrace every season with similar enthusiasm and adjust their behaviour accordingly. To understand the outdoors mindset “there is no such thing as bad weather, only wrong clothing” as the local saying goes, and at the same time the short days and long dark nights mean there is a big priority on staying indoors, of creating cosy homes to immerse in and share.
I love the concept of Hygge. Please can you tell me more about it?
Hygge is basically Danish DNA. It’s a local reflection of the Scandinavian art of creating intimacy, fellowship and cosiness in the smallest everyday moments. It is often simplistically translated as ‘cosiness’ but the closest I can describe it is “chill-out” though without the tribal/youth-culture pseudo-cool element. Everyone ‘hygges’ many times every day.
What are the key elements of Scandinavian life that go towards making people feel happy?
To start I think it is the Scandinavian priority of finding happiness in the everyday, rather then in the distant dreams that us Anglo-Saxons tend to focus on. Scandinavians are very pragmatic people. They don’t live the American Dream, where the future appears bright if they work hard enough. They appreciate, nurture and celebrate the present in a way that is admirable and which we should learn from.
After that you have the fantastic public services, generous welfare net and high standards of living. Though I do think these are as a result of the Scandinavian mental approach to life rather than the cause.
Big question, but how do you think us Brits can incorporate a little Hygge or mys into our lives?
Just by prioritizing everyday shared moments. Every single day. Danes can ‘hygge’ limitlessly, but hygge can be something as basic as an informal chat over the coffee machine as much as a big dinner at home with friends. Its just that it is more savoured and appreciated. Because ultimately when you have had a lot of nice small shared experiences in your day then you will sleep well and be fresh for the next.
Are there any simple changes that you’ve made since living in Scandinavia that have improved your outlook to life?
I am at home with my family a lot more. It doesn’t mean I work any less, but I take the kids to school and I pick them up so we share a lot of time together every single day. I am no righteous evangelist but when I am back in England and I see my friends I now can’t understand how they can literally prioritise the office for the entire week and then only really see their kids at the weekend. The balance of priorities is just wrong. Oh, and I cycle and cook a lot more too.
During a particularly bitter winter do you have any failsafe things to do that will pick you up when you’re feeling down?
English beer, sausages and HP Sauce! More seriously though, I actually now prefer the more bitter winters to the ones that float around zero degrees. If you are going to do winter, you might as well do it properly. And something happens to the weather below -5 that creates a crispness, stillness and clearness to the sky that is magical. When I lived in Stockholm it could get down to -20 and there is nothing fresher. Plus you sleep a lot more. Hibernate, essentially. Which probably puts you on a healthier annual cycle more in touch with nature.
What are the main differences that you see between Danes and Swedes?
A lot! But for outsiders it is very hard to tell as on the surface they all appear the same happy, liberal, sporty and talented Scandinavians. In fact a common mistake us Brits make is to assume they are just like us – they speak great English, they laugh at the same jokes, they love English football, they even look like us (albeit, better looking versions of us).
But to summarise their differences Danes are generally more carefree and laidback (‘the latinos of the north’) while Swedes are more disciplined and prone to consensus.
How did both you and Gerry end up living in Scandinavia? Were you friends before?
I met a Danish girl in a park when I was living in Sydney, Australia in 2000. A year later I landed in Scandinavia with my bags (like many a foreign male), having never visited before. She is now my wife and mother to our 2 children (one born in Copenhagen, and one in Stockholm). Gerry met a Swedish girl while on secondment in Stockholm at around the same time. We both lived in Copenhagen and Stockholm but never met until 2012 when we were introduced by a mutual friend, shortly after both having left our previous corporate jobs. The similarities were uncanny and when I explained my idea for Skandinavisk he agreed on the spot to get involved.
When and why did you decide to set up Skandinavisk?
I had been playing with an idea in my head for several years – for a brand that would focus on celebrating Scandinavian lifestyle and landscapes to people outside Scandinavia. A lot of people know about Scandinavia, they think good things about the region, but they have never visited and they don’t have any depth to their knowledge. Scandinavia is famous for its design, but we want to use design to tell stories about the Scandinavia we have experienced as foreigners and residents. It’s a magical place that through our brand and products we hope others can better understand and appreciate, whether they come here or not.
Do you have any new scents or products for Winter?
Yes – we have introduced 3 new scents and one new size. I am very excited about the 2 seasonal scents we have just launched, JUL (Christmas in all 3 Scandinavian languages) and SNÖ (snow in Swedish). Christmas was made for Scandinavia with the cosy evenings at home and the dark nights outside so JUL is a very warm, spicy scent and SNÖ is a very light crisp scent with a hint of winter berries. We are trying to capture this balance of extremes – from that -20 moment outside the door where the air literally crackles to the physical and emotional warmth of people, gløgg and gingerbread inside their wooden homes.
KOTO is the third scent and is launched in our new 600gr, 4-wick size poured into beautiful hand-blown glass votives. KOTO is traditional Finnish for ‘home’ and is a very understated scent that we worked on in collaboration with Design Bloggers United.
In what way do your products reflect the Scandinavian lifestyle?
Scandinavians burn more candles than any nation on earth. They burn them morning, noon and night, 365 days a year. Because they know that a candle flame will make any moment softer, more informal, cosy. So that’s why we focus on candles.
The benefit of adding fragrance is it makes it easier for us to bring to life the aspects of the region we believe to be so important to its inhabitants and so different to the rest of the world.
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IMAGE: Mikkel Heriba