Find joy through the Japanese concept of ‘ikigai’ or face life with more courage and ‘sisu’ like the Finns – health writer Helen Foster discovers how to max your wellbeing with a little help from cultures around the world

Last year, we embraced the trend of ‘hygge’ – the Danish word with no direct translation that roughly means ‘a feeling of cosiness and contentment’. But it’s not the only word from other cultures that can help us feel good. Health writer Helen Foster finds seven more phrases that can help us be healthier and happier.

1. Find joy with ‘ikigai’

Pronounced: ‘ee-key-guy’

This Japanese word roughly translates as finding your purpose in life and it’s been linked to everything from happiness to living longer. It sounds like a hard thing to find but, in The Little Book Of Ikigai, author Ken Mogi explains how one element of ikigai is experiencing the ‘joy of little things’ – like visiting places that make you happy or spending time with someone that makes you laugh. Add at least one of these to your life every day.

2. Relax more with ‘fjaka’

Pronounced: ‘fy-aka’

This Croatian concept means ‘the sweetness of doing nothing’, something many of us find difficult to achieve. “Your brain needs a break every 90 minutes for it to sort through everything it’s processing,” explains Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, author of Tired But Wired. “Skipping these breaks can interfere with sleep and mood.” Add some fjaka to your day by going for a walk simply to people watch, or find a quiet spot to listen to your favourite music.

3. Be strong with ‘sisu’

Pronounced: ‘see-sue’

This Finnish word roughly means to face life’s challenge with courage and determination or “to have guts”, as Joanna Nylund, author or Sisu: The Finnish Art Of Courage (out in February) puts it. Despite living in semi-darkness November to February, the Finns are surprisingly resilient and outdoorsy – from cycling to work in the snow to winter bathing. “’There’s no bad weather, just unsuitable clothing’ is the emphatic statement you’ll often hear,” says Nylund. So make like the Finnish: aim to say yes more and start on the path to achieving your ultimate goals.

4. Find balance with ‘lagom’

Pronounced: ‘la-gum’

Lagom is often described as not too little, not too much. “I think the true denotation is ‘optimal’,” says Lola Akinmade Akerstrom, author of Lagom: The Swedish Secret Of Living Well. “Think of it as a scale that needs to be balanced. Too much of anything causes stress, too little of anything causes stress – try to aim for that middle ground in your every day.” Apply it to exercise – balance intense workout days with rest and stretch time. Or look at your diet – eat healthily most of the time but never begrudge yourself your favourite food every now and again.

5. Clear your mind with ‘uitwaaien’

Pronounced: ‘out-vyn-en’

This Dutch word translates to, ‘I’m going to the country to take a break and clear my head.’ This is a great idea according to a new study published in Oxford Academic’s BioScience journal, which found we experience an immediate boost in mental wellbeing from spending time in nature. Japanese researchers also found that students who spent two nights in the forest had lower levels of cortisol (a hormone triggered by stress) than those who spent time in the city. No time for a country break? Reap the revitalising effects with a brisk walk in your local park or try a day trip to the woods.

6. Feel comfortable in your own skin with ‘wabi sabi’

Pronounced: ‘wabby-sabby’

“This is the Japanese idea that there is beauty in imperfection,” explains Eve Menezes Cunningham, counsellor and author of 365 Ways To Feel Better. “We now live in a world where we’re bombarded with so many of the same images (particularly on social media) that we forget that beauty comes from our uniqueness. Stop shoehorning yourself into other people’s ideals and embrace your imperfections.” You could start by re-assessing who you follow on social media. If a feed doesn’t make you feel empowered, informed or inspired, it might be time to unfollow.

7. Let it go with ‘mei ban fa’

Pronounced: ‘may-ban-fah’

Mei ban fa is the idea that not every problem has a solution. “If nothing can be done, we should accept things the way they are rather than wishing for the way we’d like them to be,” explains David James Lees, a Taoist monk and founder of Wu Wei Wisdom, which uses Chinese beliefs to inspire happiness. “Mei ban fa reminds us to embrace reality, make the best of things based on the truth and think of how you can move on positively.” Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, break it down by reminding yourself of the things you can – and more importantly can’t – control.

Struggling to fit in time to relax? Read our guide to creating more me-time – even when you’re busy.

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