Sweden – a country whose workers are the least stressed in the entire world – seems to have discovered the key to happiness: fika, a word derived from the Swedish kaffee (coffee) which can be used both as a noun and a verb.
Sweden is the third-largest coffee drinking nation and their coffee breaks are well-known for being a moment of leaving all work behind. The breaks are taken two times a day – once around 10am and then at 3pm – and they are an opportunity to relax with colleagues. So what exactly is fika? Anna Brones, one of the authors of Fika: The Art of The Swedish Coffee Break (2015), tells Quartz:
“It is the moment that you take a break, often with a cup of coffee, but alternatively with tea, and find a baked good to pair with it. In our own [US] culture, where coffee has come to be more about grabbing a 16-ounce-grande-whatever, in a paper cup to go, coffee is more about fueling up and going fast. In Sweden, coffee is something to look forward to, a moment where everything else stops and you savor the moment. In today’s modern world we crave a little bit of that; we want an excuse to slow down.”
Swedish entrepreneur Lars Åkerlund opened his own Swedish coffee chain in New York and named it after this practice precisely because it makes people “more productive and efficient” and because he thought it would be successful in a place where everybody is in a rush all the time.
The ritual of fika is supported by actual studies that have shown how people who take breaks are actually more efficient at work. And this is not the only benefit associated with the practice. Professor Viveka Adelsward from Linkoping University, who has studies fika extensively, says that by being such an informal practice, it breaks down barriers at work: “We meet under informal circumstances, exchange information and comment on what’s happening. The hierarchy breaks down during the fika; we’re all in it together regardless of power and position.”