Fika: Mindfulness made palatable

Many of us are already familiar with the Danish concept of “hygge“, which is often used to acknowledge a feeling or a moment that is cosy and special. The other day, I came across a “new” concept that is making headlines (and it is by no means new at all) – “fika“. Fika can simply mean to catch up over a cup of coffee and a pastry. But, much like hygge, it cannot be translated directly, nor can it be defined quite so simply. Fika comes from Sweden, where I spent most of my childhood, so I was already familiar with the concept. And, as you can see by the images above, this is something my sister and me do on a regular basis (I stole most of the pictures from her!). Yet I found it interesting that something as “normal” to me as fika is now gaining mainstream popularity.

Fika (similarly to hygge) is more than it appears. In its essence, it is a chance to slow down and embrace the moment. Research has shown that taking regular breaks throughout the workday can actually increase productivity, and, more importantly, happiness among employees. But what do these Scandinavian concepts really embody? Can hygge at home and fika at work actually contribute to increased happiness? And, of course, how are they related to mindfulness? 

It does not translate

Similar to the Danish hygge, fika is a concept larger than its action. It is both a noun and a verb. It is a coffee break, a social phenomenon, a chance to rest, an opportunity to catch up, a time to eat, and a way to bond. Translating it poses a risk of simplifying it or breaking down something that really should not be broken down.

It is not a material thing

Much like most of us would claim about mindfulness and the search for happiness, hygge and fika are not material things. They come from within. You can’t buy “hygge foods” and you cannot decorate your house in “hygge style”. Hygge is more than cosy blankets, cups of hot chocolate, candles and books. Similarly, buying a coffee and a cinnamon bun to eat at your desk does not constitute fika.

It is not about productivity

Despite articles and research mainly revolving around how regular fika breaks make you more productive in the workplace, this is not really what fika is about, much like mindfulness should not be used to enhance productivity and efficiency. Fundamentally, fika is about happiness. Perhaps happier workers are more productive workers. Perhaps workers are more productive when they take regular rest stops. Perhaps the social aspect of fika disconnects us from our emails and connects us to the real world. Perhaps colleagues discussing work and non-work related topics improves office communication. Whatever it is, fika is more than simply another way to get employers to do more in less time.

It reconnects you to the present moment

What is probably most appealing about the concept of fika is the opportunity to slow down, take a break, and check in with ourselves. In this sense, fika shares some similarity with this particular aspect of mindfulness meditation. It is a chance to reconnect with ourselves and with the now, ideally several times throughout the day.

It is nothing new or special

Finally, I can’t think of a culture or country where it is unheard of for people to enjoy periods of rest, whether it is minutes in a day, days in a week or weeks in a year. There is the Shabbat, Sunday rest, lunch break, hygge, fika, siesta, weekends, holidays and many other reasons, which have likely existed since the beginning of humankind. While mindfulness meditation is definitely more than just a moment of rest, it also has some important similarities with the concept of fika. And while many people are still sceptical about mindfulness and its benefits, perhaps Scandinavians are on to something. They have hygge. They have fika. They have “lagom” (roughly translating to “just enough”, “just the right amount”, or “perfectly balanced”). So maybe fika is a start to reconnecting with the present moment. Maybe fika is just mindfulness made palatable. 




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