Books

3 books to help Americans find happiness

The Little Book of Fika; Cosy; The Book of Ichigo Ichie
The Little Book of Fika; Cosy; The Book of Ichigo Ichie

There’s a British antidote to our cold, chaotic world — and it’s called coziness. The feel-good, sock-heavy concept is a nice addition to “new year, new you” routines, right up there with ichigo ichie: the Japanese expression that reminds us to put down our phones, because each moment is unique and isn’t coming back. Both are among the practices outlined in a rush of new books from other countries that seem to imply that Americans are doing it wrong and could be happier. Here’s a look at the lessons four of these new guides impart.

To learn how to be anchored in the present, consult “The Book of Ichigo Ichie,” by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles.

You could spend this beautiful, fleeting moment opening the zillionth tab in your internet browser, or you could smell the rain-soaked earth or contemplate the citrusy tones of your hot tea. Whatever you choose, know that each tiny speck of time, though it might feel like all the others, is unique and will never happen again - so relish it.

That’s the idea behind the ancient Japanese concept “ichigo ichie.” “The moment is a jealous lover that demands we give it our all,” García and Miralles write, a fairly dramatic description for a tenet of Zen Buddhism. “Every unrepeatable moment is a small oasis of happiness. And many oases together make an ocean of happiness.”

To savor each moment like it’s the last, one must fully employ the five senses. Keep your phone in your pocket as you go for a walk and check the color of the sky and shapes of the clouds instead of your texts. Walk barefoot on the grass or dirt. Blindfold yourself and then eat an apple, noting how it feels in your hand and in your mouth - chewing “as if it were the only thing in the universe.” It’s ultimately a hopeful practice, a promise that while we’ll never get these moments back, we can squeeze a whole lot of life out of them before they go poof.

To de-stress, curl up with “Cosy,” by Laura Weir.

There are parallels between British coziness and the Danish concept of hygge. But hygge carries a “certain elitism ... now that it’s been hijacked by hipsters and interior design magazines,” Weir writes. So, no twinkle lights are necessary to get cozy. But socks? Now, those are divine.

Over the past few years, Weir, a London-based journalist, found herself “seeking comfort from politically dark winters and the relentlessly bleak news cycle.” Reprieve came in the form of coziness - which essentially means retreating inside with whatever makes you happy, doing whatever you do when no one is watching.

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In breezy chapters complemented by charming illustrations, Weir evangelizes on the joys of quotidian pleasures such as warm feet, warm fires and, obviously, tea. There are recipes for cozy feasts - cottage pie, apple crumble - plus craft ideas and suggestions for comfy, layered outfits. Weir romanticizes downpours and enthuses about sound baths and regular baths. She likens napping to a “decadent snack” and extols the virtues of dimly lit rooms.

“Cosy” might be British, but warm, fuzzy feelings are universal, and Weir’s guide to comfort and contentment is pleasant if not particularly novel. Homebodies will appreciate the permission to stay in and practice self-imposed lethargy - which, to be sure, is good for overworked and over-socialized brains.

To have better balance, take a break with “The Little Book of Fika,” by Lynda Balslev.

Sad desk lunch, meet fika: the Swedish ritual that pairs short, twice-daily coffee breaks with conversation and a gooey treat. Americans can have their to-go cups; Swedes - consistently ranked among the world’s happiest people - see coffee as an opportunity to slow down and appreciate a simple pleasure.

“In many cultures, the notion of drinking coffee is active and frenetic,” Balslev writes. “Swedish fika is quite the opposite. It’s a moment to relax and reflect, [and] connect with friends and family, nature or oneself.”

“The Little Book of Fika” is, literally, little - small enough to fit in a palm, and short enough to devour during a 15-minute fika. The practice, which traces back to the 1600s, is part of the lagom movement, or the concept of “not too much, not too little - just enough.” It’s observed at home, at coffee shops, in parks, in the office; wherever there’s coffee, there can be fika.

“Consider it a caffeinated meditation,” Balslev suggests. Leave your desk to make a dark roast, or take a thermos to savor in a park. Don’t multitask - his is a break, after all - but catching up with a friend or colleague is encouraged. You’ll return to regularly scheduled life feeling clear-minded and sated (and only partly thanks to the Swedes’ fika-favorite cinnamon buns).

To make more friends, study “The Power of Nunchi,” by Euny Hong.

Let’s say you’re going to a party. Think of the room as a beehive, Hong suggests. Each person has a specific job, and yours is “eye-assessing,” or careful observation. Inferring what your peers are thinking and feeling, and how you should react, is the Korean practice of nunchi, which literally translates to eye-measure.

It’s “the Korean superpower,” Hong declares. “Some people even go as far as to say it’s how Korean people can read minds ... In the short term, nunchi will save you from social embarrassment. In the long term, nunchi will make the waters part for you.”

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Nunchi is like a sixth sense, an innate ability to choose the right partner in life or business, ask for a raise at the right time or make everyone you meet like you, even if they can’t articulate why. Some people are born with it; others hone it. Korean parents teach it alongside such important life lessons as “look both ways before you cross the street” and “don’t hit people.”

The 5,000-year-old concept is nuanced but ultimately simple: Pay attention. Hong delivers a set of rules including “never pass up a good opportunity to shut up,” and “if you just arrived in the room, remember that everyone else has been there longer.” All you need is your eyes and your ears, and with Hong’s guidance, you, too, can become a nunchi ninja in the New Year.

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