Maybe you’re burned out from our crazy busy culture. Maybe you’re tethered to your phone (a serious source of stress according to the American Psychological Association) or have fallen down the social media rabbit hole. Whatever the reason, many of us are trading happy hour for a night of Netflix, reading or DIY spa treatments.
In your social media deep dives you might have seen fires, snuggly blankets, fuzzy socks and warm mugs of coffee and cake flooding Pinterest and Instagram, making staying in and getting cozy the new night out. And it’s all thanks to our friends in Denmark and Sweden, who’ve perfected the culture of comfort. Some even say it’s the secret to why Scandinavians are among the happiest people on Earth.
Curious? We talked to experts to get the low-down on the benefits of getting comfy, Scandinavian style.
What the Hygge and Fika?
Hygge: n. the Danish practice of creating cozy environments to promote emotional well-being
The cozy-at-home boom started with hygge (pronounced “hoo-ga”) — the Danish art of coziness, togetherness and well-being. “Hygge is part of the cultural DNA of Denmark,” says Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute and author of The Little Book of Hygge. “Perhaps hygge is to the Danes what freedom is to Americans.”
According to Wiking, hygge feels like home. Think cuddling with a loved one on the couch, sharing food and drink with family or sitting around a roaring fire with your close friends while snowed in at a cabin in the woods. “The key ingredients are togetherness, relaxation, indulgence, presence and comfort,” he says. “It’s basically like a hug, just without the physical touch.”
Recently, the Swedish custom of fika has also become popular. “Fika is really just the Swedish word for coffee break,” says Anna Brones, author of Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Traditionally, you have coffee and something sweet like a cinnamon or cardamon bun or chocolate.
“But it’s not just a thing you do when you have free time. It works its way into the culture,” says Brones. You can stop for fika whether you’re at the office or have a day off. Brones says that at most Swedish companies people get a fika break in the morning and in the afternoon. (Talk about work perks!) And unlike American coffee breaks, where you down your coffee in front of your computer or while squeezing in another quick meeting, fika means taking a real pause in your day to chat with your co-workers and friends. “It’s not really the food or the drink but the act of taking a break that’s important,” Brones says.
Get Cozy to be Happier, Healthier and More Productive?
Fika: n. the Swedish word for coffee break
While hygge and fika may mean hanging out in PJs and noshing on comfort food, there may be something deeper that’s driving our need to know more about it.
“There’s so much interest in Denmark and the rest of Scandinavia because these countries often rank highly on the happiness lists,” says Wiking. “Today, when happiness researchers analyze the common denominators among those who consider themselves happy, a pattern emerges without exception that these people have meaningful and positive social relationships.”
Hygge and fika offer one way to build those connections while combating the glorification of being busy. “We’re on information overload, work overload, communication overload. People don’t slow down anymore,” says Brones. “This provides a nice excuse to slow down. It’s a reset. There’s plenty of studies on efficiency and creativity that show that we need regular breaks.”
In fact, researchers from Baylor University found that taking short, frequent breaks during the workday resulted in fewer aches and pains, higher job satisfaction and reduced emotional exhaustion. Another study found that when we work longer hours, we’re less productive.
Being present and thankful for the little things in life also plays a role, especially in hygge. “Hygge helps you to be grateful for the everyday because it’s all about savoring simple pleasures. It’s making the most of the moment,” says Wiking. By practicing hygge, you get a dose of happiness on the daily, not just during your once-a-year vacation.
RELATED: 17 Ways to Get Back to Being Happy
How to Bring a Little More Comfort to Your Day
“Perhaps hygge is to the Danes what freedom is to Americans.”
Step one: Designate your cozy space at home. Fill it with pillows, soft blankets, maybe even a big bean bag chair or comfy cushion. “It’s the thing every home needs and it [should be] the place where you love to snuggle up in a blanket, with a book and a cup of tea,” Wiking says.
While you can practice hygge or fika by yourself, Wiking and Brones say there’s a social component to both that seems essential to the special foundation of these ideas. Wiking suggests getting others in on the fun by starting a new tradition with friends and family. (Friday night board game, anyone?) “Any meaningful activity that unites the group will knit everyone more tightly together over the years,” he says.
Brones recommends making a regular fika date with your friends to share a cup of tea or coffee. While sweet treats generally fill the menu, savory snacks aren’t off limits. And don’t forget to give your brain a much-needed break at work, too. That could mean just five to 10 minutes of paging through a magazine, says Brones.
Keep in mind, while staging an extravagant caffeine break or surrounding yourself with cozy accessories has been tied to fika and hygge, they aren’t the whole story. “The point is to rethink how you structure your life. Are you making it a priority to find some balance, take a break and take time to be more involved in your community?” says Brones. “You can’t buy your way into hygge or a balance lifestyle. You have to create that lifestyle.”