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A short break does more than just fuel our bodies, it strengthens our minds. Our overworked guest tries the Swedish practice of ‘Fika’ – taking short coffee breaks throughout the work day.
In the United States, we’re taught that it’s a good thing to work more, and work harder. But research shows that overworking isn’t just physically and mentally draining, it can also be deadly. One strategy to manage our work culture? Take more breaks. Our guest this week is Mike Heyliger, a music executive and self-described “workaholic.” He incorporated the Swedish tradition of fika – taking coffee and snack breaks throughout the day – into his own life, and found it not only helped him de-stress, it also shifted his mindset and enabled him to connect with others. Later, we look at the scientific benefits of taking microbreaks and hear from Anna Brones, co-author of Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break.
Actively choose to take a break during your day. Typically, fika breaks happen twice. Once in the morning and once in the mid-afternoon.
Traditionally, fika breaks include a drink, like coffee, and a snack, but this is not required. Often, fika breaks are taken with others.
Mike Heyliger is a music executive and the creator of Detoxicity, a podcast on progressive masculinity.
Learn more about Mike’s Initiative, ‘Mindful Vinyl’: https://mindfulvinyl.org/about/
Listen to Mike’s Podcast, ‘Detoxicity’: https://tinyurl.com/vc72tjn2
Learn more about Anna and her work: https://www.annabrones.com/about
Anna Brones is a Swedish-American writer and artist. She produces the newsletter and podcast, Creative Fuel. Anna is also the co-author of Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break.
Listen to the Creative Fuel Podcast: https://www.creativefuelcollective.com/podcast
Read Anna’s book on Fika: https://tinyurl.com/yhdzaj2m
Resources from The Greater Good Science Center:
Five Reasons to Take a Break from Screens: https://tinyurl.com/333tuvax
Why You Should Take More Time Off from Work: https://tinyurl.com/k5brkp46
Tuesday Tip: Take a Break: https://tinyurl.com/5986ste3
How to Avoid Burnout – or a Breakdown: https://tinyurl.com/bddw7cap
Why You Should Take a Relaxing Lunch Break: https://tinyurl.com/2p8axdba
More Resources on Fika:
NYT - In Sweden, the Fika Experience: https://tinyurl.com/54wpw8p5
Insider - A daily habit from Sweden could make you more productive at work: https://tinyurl.com/4exjydrr
TED - Forget the Pecking Order at Work: https://tinyurl.com/yk68dmzy
BBC - The Swedish tradition that can make you happier at work: https://tinyurl.com/yx28x2v8
Have you tried incorporating fika in your life? Tell us how it went. Email us at email@example.com or use the hashtag #happinesspod.
Help us share The Science of Happiness! Share this episode with a friend: https://tinyurl.com/4uyr2w35
Leave us a 5-star review on Apple Podcasts: https://tinyurl.com/2p9h5aap
Mike Heyliger: I’ve always loved music and I kind of stumbled into working in the industry. I…when I got outta high school, I ended up getting a job in a record store, and that led to one thing and that led to something else, and that led to something else and 30 years later here I am.
There’s always a party, there’s always a show, there’s always a conference. And there’s also, always a showcase or a concert. Or you know, people looking to get together at a bar and like have drinks and network, and young professionals and this and that. So it is constant stimulation.
I’m a generally anxious person, but when you’re in the office and you’re looking at people and people are expecting things from you, and the phone’s ringing and you know you’re looking at your computer screen and you see the number in your inbox, keep going up and up and up, then that adds anxiety on top of the, like, self-imposed anxiety.
It’s like you can’t really escape because, you know, from the Blackberry to the, you know, iPhone, whatever, like work is it, it’s really just a the click of a button away.
And being able to step away, again, it just kind of gives your brain a chance to recalibrate and reset.
And just taking the time for myself is not something that I’m accustomed to.
I am a workaholic. I love to work. You know, I grew up in a family of immigrants and, you know, work was all you did. If you were resting, you were working, you know? So it was just like nonstop work and – yeah, I don’t know that I’ve ever fully been able to break that.
It certainly takes a toll on my mental health. Like, I don’t think I know really what a vacation is.
Dacher Keltner: Welcome to The Science of Happiness, I’m Dacher Keltner. Our guest this week, Michael Heyliger is a hard working music executive in New York City who struggles with finding the time to take breaks and recalibrate.
Of course, Michael isn’t alone in working too hard. It’s a problem that’s particularly acute in the United States, a country where workers average more hours on the job per year than almost any other industrialized nation.
For our show, Mike tried a practice called Fika, the Swedish custom of taking a coffee and cake break in the morning or afternoon, often accompanied by conversations with others. It’s a beloved social ritual in Sweden, a way of life that prioritizes taking the time to pause from the regular daily hustle and bustle.
We also hear from an expert on Fika all about this Swedish practice, which is rising in popularity around the world. She’ll explain exactly how it’s done in Sweden, and why it’s a good idea for us to be doing it here in the United States.
Anna Brones: So I think the two elements of Fika that are so central are this aspect of taking a break, but then there’s also this social aspect to it. And both of those things are really important for overall well being.
Dacher Keltner: But first, a short break of our own.
I’m Dacher Keltner. Welcome back to The Science of Happiness.
Today, we’re focusing on breaks, or ‘Fika’ to be exact. Fika is the Swedish custom of taking a break or two during the day to have coffee, maybe a sweet treat, and simply pause from the business of the day.
Our guest this week is Mike Heyliger. Mike is a music industry executive in New York City, who’s been in the music business for over 25 years, which is about how long I’ve been studying and teaching the science of happiness at Berkeley.
Like many of us, Mike sometimes finds it hard to take breaks, choosing instead to push through even when he is feeling tired or listless.
So he decided to try Fika for our show, and for his own peace of mind.
Mike, thanks for joining us.
Mike Heyliger : Thank you for having me.
Dacher Keltner: So I was thrilled that you for the Science of Happiness tried out Fika.
Mike Heyliger: I did.
Dacher Keltner: It’s a Swedish custom where you, you know, take a coffee break once or twice a day and you don’t have to have coffee. You can have tea or another beverage. And then no matter what you decide, it’s really, I think most importantly, it’s a chance just to stop what you’re doing and take a small break. And I’m curious: tell us about your Fika experience. You know, how’d you do it? What’d you drink? Who was there?
Mike Heyliger: I mean, it was a variety of things over a period of time.You know, I think the first thing that was really important was just to be able to get out of the building. You know, get out of the office, get out of the apartment, and go somewhere else. Thankfully I live in an area too, where there are lots of coffee shops or places to go to. So, you know, I think all of my attempts at trying Fika eventually led me to a coffee shop, and I’m not much of a coffee drinker. I have anxiety and coffee really activates that. So, you know, it was, it was usually more of like a tea break. You know, go in and get a cup of tea and then sit on a bench. Like I work in an area of New York City where there’s plenty of places to sit outdoors and just kind of watch people go by. There were a couple of times that I did that by myself. Because sometimes when you’re working around people all day, you need a few minutes to just like be in solitude.
Dacher Keltner: What were some of your favorite Fikas?
Mike Heyliger: Going out with my coworkers was actually probably the most fun one because it was just like – I work in an office, and I’m probably, where I sit is probably the furthest from the entrance. Like, I’m sort of all the way in the back. So as I’m walking towards the entrance, I’m just, like, grabbing people like, “You wanna go, you wanna go out, you wanna go out, you wanna go out?” And it ended up being five of us all together. And, you know, we walked up the street, you know, walked a couple of extra blocks past a couple of coffee shops to extend the walk a little. And you know, we took a slow stroll back to the office and just kind of talked about New York City, we talked about, you know, potentially moving apartments and then all this kind of stuff. There was an instance when, you know, a friend of mine who lives nearby, wanted to meet up in a park and that person’s partner had unfortunately just passed away. And it was kind of a, you know, just let’s talk. And you know, it was just like being a friend and being someone’s…vent, you know.
So it was good in all of those situations, step out and in the situations where I was having conversations with others to deliberately not talk about work. And in the situations where I was by myself to not like just sit on a bench outside, pick my phone up and start scrolling through work emails.
Dacher Keltner: When you think about the emotional tone of your work and then taking these Fika breaks, how long did they last?
Mike Heyliger: Usually 15 minutes, like 15, 20 minutes.
Dacher Keltner: Okay. What’d they feel like? I mean, how did they feel different than your workday? Was it relief or anxiety or how did they feel to you?
Mike Heyliger: In the immediate getting out, it’s like, okay, what am I gonna miss while I’m out? But then it’s like, okay, you put your phone in your pocket, you sit, you take a couple of breaths – or you get lost in a conversation with somebody else about something that has absolutely nothing to do with work, and that’s an actual break because your brain isn’t, at least primarily, it isn’t focused on what do I need to do next, or what did I just do? It’s focused on other situations or other people or yourself.
Dacher Keltner: You know, the science is kind of instructive on this where studies from South Korea find, like you just, like you said, you know, Mike, like if you do a break but you give yourself a cognitive task or work related, it doesn’t have a positive impact. And, then breaks get better when you do them with people –where there’s social networks. So it’s good to keep that in mind.
Mike Heyliger: Yeah. Absolutely.
Dacher Keltner: Do you have some general recommendations about, you know, when you do your Fika break, you’ve talked about sort of friendly conversations, just looking at the world pass by, what are some of the kinds of advice you would give to people taking Fika breaks about what to do?
Mike Heyliger: Get outside. If you work in an office complex – you know, take the elevator downstairs and take a couple of walks around the, you know, whatever, take a couple of walks around the parking lot, find a place that is not your office and, you know, hopefully the weather’s permitting. I think just a change of venue. The change of scenery is super, super helpful. And you know, I, am the type of person, like I thrive in situations where I can converse openly with people. So –
Dacher Keltner: Talk to strangers.
Mike Heyliger: Yeah, I mean, you know, and maybe not recommended in New York City. But you know, also you never, you might end up having a very colorful conversation.
Dacher Keltner: Yeah, that’s wonderful. I love the tips and they’re cool scientific studies showing, you know, when you’re riding a commuter train and you strike up a friendly conversation, it boosts your wellbeing. Are there elements of this practice that you would like to add to your life as you go forward?
Mike Heyligrt: Oh, a hundred percent. I do think that over the course of the past three years, there has been a global reckoning with working. And, you know, sort of slavish devotion to one’s job and really being able to figure out what the proper work-life balance for each of us is. And so this has been a long, kind of a long time work in progress.
So, you know, when I feel pressure from people I can do one of two things. I can either give into that pressure and turn myself into a hot mess, or I can kind of step back and try to examine where that pressure’s coming from and say, “Look, you know, this thing is going to get done. It’s going to get done in a reasonable amount of time. What is more important than getting this thing done is making sure my head is right, so I’m going to stop and, and take a break.”
Dacher Keltner: Well, Mike Heyliger. Thanks so much. And I am hungry to take some breaks right now and inspired by your experiences with Fika and we’re really grateful that you’ve been on our show.
Mike Heyliger: Thank you for having me.
Dacher Keltner: We all need a break – and I’m sure you know someone who can really use a Fika break. Share this episode with them – And try Fika for yourself. We’d love to hear how it goes. What did it do for you? What was it like to just stop and rest during the middle of the day? Email us firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know.
Up next, we’ll learn more about the background behind the practice of Fika, and why it’s good for you.
More on this Swedish custom. After break.
Welcome back to The Science of Happiness, I’m Dacher Keltner. We’ve been talking about Fika, the Swedish custom of taking a coffee break to bring some balance to a busy day.
To learn more about this custom, we figured we’d reach out to the person who wrote the book on it. =
Anna Brones: I’m Anna Brones, and I am the co-author of Fika, The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break.
Dacher Keltner: Anna grew up in Washington state but her mother is from Sweden.
Anna Brones: So I grew up speaking only Swedish at home and I lived in Sweden for a year when I was in high school, and that was actually when I started drinking coffee because I would get invited to places, and Fika’s sort of like the excuse for having somebody over. And yeah, ever since then, just really loved the custom and the tradition. I mean, who doesn’t want to take a break and drink some coffee and eat something nice with it and hang out with a friend?
Fika is most commonly sort of late morning and early afternoon. I mean, sometimes you have two Fika’s in a day, sometimes you just have one. So Fika usually sometime in the morning, like maybe 10 and then you could also have Fika in the afternoon as well. So kind of a post lunch break. But of course there’s no like exact time of day that’s the perfect time for Fika.
You know, Sweden has a very robust outdoor culture and so it’s very common to take your thermos of coffee and you know, something to go with it along with you when you, like, go on a hike so that you can have your Fika outside. That’s personally my preferred method of Fika.
Fika does not need to be coffee. I mean, certainly coffee is the iconic drink that goes with it, but, you know, some people don’t drink coffee, they drink tea. If you have kids and there’s Fika, often like a fruit juice or a fruit cordial, quite common.
So Fika often shows up, like in the workplace. There will often be a Fika break. There may be sort of a Fika room as sometimes it’s called, and it’s kind of where colleagues would gather together and have their coffee break. So people have Fika breaks at work because there’s just a very different structure about what’s expected in terms of work hours and work culture.
Dacher Ketlner: A growing body of research shows that even short breaks can be beneficial to people’s moods and job performance.
For example, a study conducted by researchers in Australia and the Netherlands found that 10-minute microbreaks were connected to less fatigue and more vitality throughout the day.
Another group of Romanian researchers showed that microbreaks can improve people’s moods, especially when they were doing something creative or even just office busy work, even just a simple Fika break can have a serious impact.
Anna Brones: So I think that often incorporating more Fika into our day as Americans really becomes a question of us making a choice for ourselves. So that’s giving yourself a chunk of time when you step away from work, away from the computer and maybe doing something else, like reading a book for a little bit, or, you know, looking through a magazine. Maybe even just staring out the window, really incorporating these elements of taking a pause.
Dacher Keltner: I’m Dacher Keltner. Thanks for joining us on The Science of Happiness. On our next episode, we explore the science of joy, with poet Ross Gay.
Ross Gay: My experience of joy is witnessing other people’s experience of what I think of as joy. Or caretaking or being connected to one another.
Dacher Keltner: We all need a break—share this episode with someone who you think can use a little Fika in their lives.
And if you’re inspired to try Fika, tell us how it went. Email us email@example.com or use the hashtag happinesspod.
I’m Dacher Keltner, thanks for taking this break with us on The Science of Happiness.
Our producer for this episode is Noam Osband. Our Executive Producer of Audio is Shuka Kalantari. Our producer is Haley Gray. Sound designer Jennie Cataldo of Accompany Studios. And our Associate Producer Maarya Zafar. Our Editor in Chief is Jason Marsh. The Science of Happiness is a co-production of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and PRX.