March 7, 2019

Sweden’s Secret Ritual Might Be the Reason It’s One of the Happiest Countries in the World

Coffee Break Where to Eat Gamla Stan Old City Stockholm Sweden Travel Blogger

Sweden routinely tops the charts as one of the happiest places in the world, based on the World Happiness Report. Actually, quite a few of the Nordic countries are high up on that list. While Sweden comes in ninth place for 2018, its Nordic neighbors took the first four spots (Finland, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland, in that respective order). It’s curious that places whicch are known for their cold climates dominate the World Happiness Report…or is it? I think part of it has to do with the social support that’s available (we’ll talk more about that later!), how they understand and appreciate the seasons and take strides to combat winter blues, and, particularly in Sweden, a little thing called fika.

What’s fika, you ask? We’ll get to that in a second! But first, a little bit about Stockholm and the old city of Gamla Stan:

The Capital

Coffee Break Where to Eat Gamla Stan Old City Stockholm Sweden Travel Blogger Coffee Break Where to Eat Gamla Stan Old City Stockholm Sweden Travel Blogger

Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, is built of 14 islands; the city center is virtually situated on the water. It seems as if everywhere I look, there is a beautiful cityscape framed by the sea. The city is a puzzling paradox—one minute it’s a bustling metropolis, then right around the corner there’s a quaint alley which provides a peaceful sanctuary. The labyrinthine like streets, each with their own personality, keep me wanting to explore, to leave no stone unturned and discover all of its secrets. I feel as if I could spend a lifetime wandering Stockholm’s winding roads and I still wouldn’t see enough.

The Old City

Stockholm Sweden Gamla Stan What to Do Old CityStockholm Sweden Gamla Stan Old City Travel Blogger What to Do in Stockholm

Gamla Stan is the old city, dating back to the 13th century, the whole area is comprised of medieval alleyways, cobblestone streets and antiquated architecture. Here, the pace of life is a bit slower, the coffee is a bit sweeter, and all that walk its winding streets can feel the history—it’s a living museum, full of sights, restaurants, curios and souvenirs. Gamla Stan has a unique character, with the buildings in so many different shades of gold; the facades seem to tell a story of their own.

The Almighty Swedish Coffee Break

Gamla Stan Stockholm Sweden Food Tour Ice Cream Waffle Cone Maker Fika

{above image courtesy of Gayle Dawn Photography, who was on this trip with us}

Waffle Coffee Break Fika Gamla Stan Stockholm Sweden Food Tour Travel

I stroll, taking in the sights and the fragrant smells—something sweet is baking up ahead, so naturally, I go in search. Large open shutters reveal a young girl, her blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, sitting next to a metallic machine. She’s concentrating, with one foot placed on a pedal—like that of a sewing machine; her hands are delicately stitching together waffle cones. The sweet scent fills the air and my stomach rumbles, she looks over, smiling, and invites me to come inside.

It was here, in this tiny dessert shop that I learned about the Swedish word of “fika.” Pronounced “fee-ka”, it refers to a sacred tradition that all Swedes partake in daily—sometimes even multiple times a day. Fika is the almighty Swedish coffee break, and it might just be the reason Sweden is routinely one of the happiest countries in the world.

A woman behind the counter giddily says, “Hallo!”

I look up, realizing that I’ve been salivating over the ice cream flavors and Nutella drenched waffles for minutes. Admittedly I can’t decide on which to choose. “What’s the most popular flavor here?” I ask.

Her face lights up. “Oh! You have to try this!” She rushes over to the ice cream chiller and dishes up a spoonful of a yellow, blue and white blend. “This is the most popular flavor in Sweden: Sven—it’s vanilla with something like blueberry. It’s our national ice cream flavor.”

My taste buds dance in delight, and I nod. “Okay, definitely this, and maybe one of those.” I point over to the girl at the waffle maker.


Sweden Sven Stockholm Gamla Stan Food Tour National Ice Cream Travel Blogger

“Please, go sit—in the open window, and enjoy. Fika!” She insists.

Fika?” I think to myself, maybe I misheard her. Taking my ice cream cone, I sit in the windowsill, and watch the world pass by. I hear different languages mix together as groups of people walk by—families, friends, people from all around the world, laughing and talking with each other. The sun starts to peak over the buildings of the alleyway, and my blue and yellow ice cream takes on a honeyed sort of flavor as it begins to melt into one.

Inside I ask for a napkin. “How was your fika?” the woman asks, smiling at me again.

“My what?”

“You know—fika!” she says with extra oomph.

She then went on to explain that the concept of fika is simple. It is a pause in the day to truly enjoy the present moment, typically with a baked good (or sweet) and a coffee. You can do it alone, or you can do it with friends. The essential thing is that you slow down and savor the moment: that’s what fika is all about.

Messy Fishtail Braid Travel Blogger Stockholm Sweden Gamla Stan Travel Hair

Chelsea Loren David Stockholm Sweden Travel Blogger Elopement

We could all use a little more fika as part of a daily ritual, couldn’t we? How would you incorporate this pause? Would it be with coffee, would you take a few minutes to go for a walk in a park, or maybe just sit outside and breath in the air? Whatever the case, I hope you take a moment to enjoy the present, breath in all that is around you, and find something that you’re thankful for every day. Because I think that no matter where you live in the world, that can be the happiest place for you—it all depends on how you look at things.

Let Us Know Your Thoughts



Culture Shoque is digital destination and channel designed to cultivate relationships in your community and while traveling. By breaking down barriers and xenophobia through the exploration of customs and food, the pursuit of joy, and environmental conservation, the goal is to show that at the core, we aren’t all that different. In fact, we all stem from similar roots. It’s time to nourish them and grow together. 

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