Croatia

Try Croatia’s fjaka mindset for a happier work-life balance

Written by Anna Brech

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Traditionally, back-to-school season means arming yourself with a “bouquet of newly sharpened pencils” (thanks Nora Ephron).

But as well as charging yourself up for the challenges ahead, the turn of the season is also a great chance to reassess your work-life balance.

Do you struggle to leave the office before 7pm every night?

Are you constantly working harder but your to-do pile just gets larger?

Do you hit the weekend like a panting Labrador, in desperate search of a rest?

If the answer to any of these is “yes”, you need to rest your wheezing engines and learn from the Croatian concept of fjaka.

What is fjaka? 

Like the Danish concept of hygge or Japanese ikigai, fjaka is one of those terms that has no direct translation.

Luka Tomas, Flash Pack’s Croatia guide, describes it as a kind of siesta.

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“There’s one part of the trip where we take the local catamaran to Hvar island in the south of Croatia,” he says. “We head for a small beach and I tell everyone, ‘It’s fjaka time!’

“It’s about lazing about and doing nothing. This is a time for staring into the sea, hanging out and relaxing.”

But it’s not just about kicking back on the beach. Fjaka is an integral part of Croatian identity and represents a form of nothingness so profound, you have to experience it to know what it means.

Croatian poet Jakša Fiamengo likens it to “a faint unconsciousness” where “the sense of time becomes lost”, says New Yorker Kristin Vuković, who has family roots near Zagreb. 

How does Fjaka work?

“Fjaka is a sublime state in which a human aspires for nothing,” Vuković tells BBC Travel.

“Fjaka is something that can’t be learned; in Dalmatia, it’s considered a gift from God… Various Dalmatians I spoke with over a dozen visits explained that fjaka is an elusive concept that is experienced in different ways.”

Traditionally, this would mean taking time out in the middle of the day, when the Croatian summer heat is at its most potent.

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“Up until a couple of years ago here we had double working times here,” says Tomas. “You come to work at 8, leave at 1-2pm to have lunch and a nap, and then you return at 5.”

These days, he says, the demand of tourism means many people cannot experience fjaka in the same way but it’s still a thing in some places.

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No matter how you actualise fjaka, it’s the mindset that really counts. Fjaka lets you escape real life and press the reset button in a profoundly relaxed state.

Guide Dino Ivančić tells Vuković that fjaka is part of him: “When he pictures a man in the state of fjaka, he is stretched out in a hammock by the sea under the shade of a tree with a full bottle of wine within reach, a fish line tied on his toe.”

How can we learn from fjaka? 

Clearly, you can’t just desert your midday budget meeting for a languorous two-hour siesta. Nor can you hang a hammock from your office rafters with a bottle of vino to hand (here’s dreaming…).

But, in an age where three in four Britons feel overwhelmed by stress and Americans are pushed to the limit by a culture of overwork, we could all benefit from some proper relaxation.

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More than ever, we need a window to regenerate the mind and body.

So rather than rev ourselves into a frenzy of September alertness, now is exactly the time to step back and make some new resolutions around wellbeing. Here’s how to bring a little fjaka your work-life:

1. Forget about productivity

The average Croatian does not care about productivity during their hazy Fjaka chill-down and nor should you.

For all the great guidance we get on doing the most difficult tasks first or mapping out your day in half-hour segments, research overwhelming points to the fact that we are most productive when we’re happy.

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Ergo, you should stop analysing whether you’re doing enough or in the right way and instead just concentrate on getting the right down-time.

Some of the greatest ideas formulate when we’re in a state of rest (legend has it Archimedes came up with his “Eureka!” moment in the bath), so prioritise your wellbeing and the rest will take care of itself.

2. Slow things down

At its core, Fjaka is about slow living: long, lazy afternoons by the sea, a shady spot in a square with a bottle of Karlovačko for company, falling into a delicious fatigue on the bow of an island-hopping sailboat.

Now naturally, you’re not going to find some of these things in downtown Manhattan or rush-hour Manchester. But you can take away the ethos, which is: work can wait. It’s possible to cut yourself loose from that circle of “right here, right now”.

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Arrive at work early, so that you avoid the hectic commute and have time to ease yourself in before everyone arrives. Get out of the office at lunchtime and take a full one-hour break. Use your time to wander, letting your mind wander and rest at the same time. Don’t go out every evening.

Resist the temptation to fill each minute your day and instead create time to do nothing.

3. Don’t save up your down-time

Where fjaka is concerned, Croatians don’t work frenetically for weeks on end in hope of some well-deserved break, and nor should you.

Fjaka should be part of your everyday life, not an after-thought filed away under “would be nice if”. For one thing, if you do this it will probably never happen. For another, it won’t be effective.

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If you divide off your relaxation time as something that only happens in a spa or at your weekly yoga session, you’re only giving yourself permission to be relaxed in those situations.

Being calm doesn’t come with an allocated postcode or time slot. You should be able to access fjaka – your inner state of drowsy chilldom – whenever you want, and on a daily basis. It’s about being gentle and kind to yourself.

4. Make room for nothing moments

A lot of people will respond to this by saying, “Sounds nice but I don’t have the time!” And the only way to combat this is to *make* the time.

In this whirlwind world of ours, it’s so easy to be swept up in a hurricane of to-dos. But time – clear, free, beautiful time – is the most precious commodity you can get.

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Take a long, hard look at your schedule and figure out what you can afford to strike.

We’re taught that the only way to be happy is to be deliriously busy, but chill time – not flopping in front of the TV but taking time with just yourself – is invaluable to feeling a sense of freedom.

Make it a daily habit and you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.

Images: Shutterstock, Flash Pack


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