What is fika? Discover how Swedish coffee breaks can improve your wellbeing
Swedish-style coffee and cake breaks are really a time to pause, reflect, recharge and deepen our connections, says Ruby Deevoy
A hot drink and a slice of cake make me happy. All the more so when shared with friends. And, as it turns out, there’s more to taking a coffee break than simply giving ourselves an energy boost during a mid-morning or afternoon lull. When we allow ourselves this small treat, we are participating in one of Scandinavia’s longest standing rituals: fika. A practice which is not considered a luxury, but a necessity in many Nordic cultures.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of taking part in ‘real’ fika during a trip to Sweden, while visiting an old friend in the sleepy town of Västerås. Each Sunday, she and an ever-widening group of friends would take it in turns to host in their homes. People arrived, travelling from near and far, armed with home-baked goods, smiles and news from their week. For a short time, every weekend, there was no higher priority than getting together with friends and reconnecting in a relaxed and welcoming space. Afterwards, we all felt positively recharged.
“When we’re among friends, we exhale more deeply. We relax and laugh and have fun. We witness their lives and they ours. We get to be silly and also to bare parts of ourselves others don’t see because we have that history and trust,” says Eve Menezes Cunningham, self-care coach and author of 365 Ways to Feel Better (White Owl, £14.99).
“In addition, there’s something powerful about connecting over the warmth of a hot drink and a treat. It can make the world feel less cold, more welcoming and nourishing. There’s evidence to suggest positive feelings help to lower stress and studies show that social connections are a big part of what contributes to greater wellbeing, including longer lifespans and health-spans.”
A University of Colorado study found that holding a hot drink made people more friendly towards strangers (and cold drinks had the opposite effect!).
Fika has long been an integral part of Scandi culture, both at home and in the workplace. With Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and The Netherlands being ranked five of the world’s top 10 happiest countries in 2018 (according to the United Nations World Happiness Report), perhaps it’s time to borrow a few more of the life-enhancing rituals that make these populations tick.
On the surface, fika is simply a coffee with friends or co-workers, but look a little deeper and we find that it’s something more meaningful. Fika is an opportunity to stop. To slow down. To take a real break and to reconnect with our fellow humans. At home, it’s a chance to nurture our relationships with friends and family; while at work, it’s an informal, natural way to get to know our colleagues.
Swedish fika at work
In Scandi countries, employers and employees discuss ideas or problems in a warm and friendly setting – and it makes for a willingly hard-working and harmonious society. Fika is an act of convivial defiance in a world that makes little time for us to pause and take stock. Almost all employers in Sweden encourage their employees to enjoy fika twice a day when at work; 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon.
Many companies in other countries are now following suit, due to the impressive results stemming from a well-cared-for workforce. And there’s plenty of research to back this up. A study by the University of Illinois in 2011 found that prolonged attention on a single task, without taking a break, can drastically hinder performance and focus.
A separate study by the University of Southern California found that taking some ‘downtime’ from work is essential to maintain the mental processes that allow the brain to make sense of what it has recently learned, and to surface fundamental unresolved tensions in our lives by looking inward, rather than outward.
“Any break is good for the soul, which means it has the potential to boost productivity rather than lower it,” says Eve. “When people feel connected and safe at work (especially when modern open-plan workspaces can leave many of us feeling exposed and stressed), the creative juices flow more freely, there’s more collaboration and problem solving gets easier. People feel more connected and part of the team as a result.”
In essence fika is, of course, about more than good coffee and cake, but this is a very good place to begin. If you love the idea of making fika a part of your life, you’ll want to bring friends and colleagues on board too, and what better way to invite them to a new ritual than by baking some delicious treats to share?
4 Nordic wellbeing practices to try
Lagom is a Swedish word which roughly translates as 'just enough' or 'the right amount'. It's all about finding balance in your life and enjoying all things in moderation.
Learn how to love the great outdoors the Scandinavian way with friluftsliv. The term loosely translates as 'free air life' and it's all about planning your own outdoor adventures.
Sisu is less well-known than many Nordic wellbeing trends, but it's integral to Finnish culture. Sisu is best translated as 'gutsy' and it's all about resilience and finding your inner strength.
Hygge is all about comfort and cosiness. It's about being snug at home on winter days or enjoying the company of some good friends. Hygge is most associated with the colder months, but you can also practice hygge in the summer.