The Sweet Life
It is an oft quoted maxim that we are made of stardust. The part we leave out is that to stardust we must return. Eventually, the sun will swell to its red giant form. This will engulf much of our solar system with planet earth included. Even though this is the truth that underscores my life – all life, in fact – I catch myself feeling uncomfortable every time that I am reminded of it. What is surprising is that I am not reminded of it so often.
We humans have created a multitude of ways to plot out a little territory in the space-time continuum. We count sleeps, we salute sunsets and we pass seasons. We celebrate holidays whilst we begrudge weekdays. We hold onto a sense of the past and observe throw-back Thursdays. We even slice time into pieces and collect them in tiny jar that sits conveniently on our left wrist. I love Christmas and fortune cookies and solar eclipses. However, my favorite way to understand the passing of time is the Swedish way: baked goods.
The Swedish Calendar is divided into cakes. An awareness of what bun to eat when permeates Swedish culture. Saffron Buns are eaten in Advent. October 4th marks Cinnamon Bun Day. Whilst waffles are eaten in March, Pancakes are served on Thursdays. I could not think of a better way to mark the trudge of time and planet earth’s inevitable demise than with dessert. This illuminates much of the Swedish way of life and working culture.
Much is said of the Eskimos and their many words for snow. In the same vein, my favorite Swedish word is Fika. Fika is both a noun and a verb that roughly translates as ‘taking a break to drink coffee and eat cake with friends’. I believe that this little word is the key to understanding the unique Swedish approach to work.
This summer, the city of Gothenburg is testing the benefits of the six-hour work day. The theory is that, by working shorter hours, workers will prioritize leisure over work. This is hypothesized to lead to healthier, happier employees and greater productivity. If workers are found to have improved mental and physical health the reforms may be extended to the entire Swedish civil service. Many studies have shown that the number of hours worked can be inverse to efficiency. It is this dilemma that the trial seeks to overcome.
The fact that this experiment is being undertaken in Sweden does not surprise me. A country that condenses the concept of ‘taking a break to revel in waffles’ to a single word clearly values the good things in life. Like many across Sweden and the world, I await the results of the experiment impatiently. In my mind we should value the happiness of our employees because, after all, we are all made of stardust.
References, Uri Freedman, ‘Sweden: the New laboratory for the six hour workday’, The Atlantic.
Photo credit: Alexandra Lembke