We tend to think of rituals as elaborate ceremonies you might do at a house or worship or big celebrations. But science shows that tiny everyday rituals -- savoring a simple cup of tea or using a scripted set of actions to reset your mind -- can have powerful benefits.
If you're in the market for a good ritual, the nation of Denmark has an easy and impactful idea to steal. It consists of nothing more complicated than a three-letter word for whenever everyday stresses creep up on you: pyt.
Pyt your way to peace of mind.
"Pyt -- which sort of sounds like 'pid' -- was recently voted the most popular word by Danes," noted psychologist and native Dane Marie Helweg-Larsen on The Conversation a while back. What does it mean?
The word "doesn't have an exact English translation," she explains. "It's more of a cultural concept about cultivating healthy thoughts to deal with stress... Pyt is usually expressed as an interjection in reaction to a daily hassle, frustration, or mistake. It most closely translates to the English sayings, 'Don't worry about it,' 'stuff happens,' or 'oh well.'"
Helweg-Larsen offers several examples to illustrate: "You might see a parking ticket lodged under your windshield wiper and, just as you become hot with anger, shake your head and murmur, 'pyt,'" or "You might say 'pyt' in response to something you did: 'Pyt, that was a dumb thing to say.'"
In whatever context you use it, pyt is about "accepting and resetting. It's used as a reminder to step back and refocus rather than overreact. Instead of assigning blame, it's a way to let go and move on."
What's so powerful about pyt?
That all might seem like just an interesting bit of linguistic miscellany, but responding with pyt to life's small annoyances is actually a powerful tool to keep your peace of mind. It might be just three letters, but the approach pyt signifies really could change your life.
First, responding to a perceived slight or insult with pyt encourages forgiveness rather than brooding. "By saying 'pyt,' you're deciding that it's not worth letting someone else's actions, which are out of your control, bother you," writes Helweg-Larsen. This sort of forgiveness isn't about giving the other party a pass. It's about keeping your own mind clear and focused.
Studies have linked forgiveness "to increased productivity, decreased absenteeism (fewer days missing work), and fewer mental and physical health problems, such as sadness and headaches," explains the UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center. We forgive others mostly for ourselves.
Second, the opposite of responding with pyt is complaining, and a whole stack of studies shows that complaining is terrible for your mental and physical health. Ruminating on problems makes you more prone to pessimism and triggers stress that wears on your body. Unless the matter demands serious fixing, better to pyt and forget.
Finally, letting go of life's little annoyances is sure to make you happier, which is good in itself. But as Harvard happiness researcher Shawn Achor has explained, happiness also makes your brain work better, boosting your chances of success in life.
Don't turn molehills into mountains.
The bottom line here isn't to bliss out and shrug off every issue. Serious problems demand reflection and fixing. But those important matters aren't the majority of annoyances that derail our days. We are often upset by small slights or troubles. Simply thinking pyt is one way to remember the costs of engaging with these minor hassles and the benefits of letting them go.
Or as Helweg-Larsen writes, "studies show that we are happier and live longer when we have fewer daily hassles. And in some cases, what constitutes a hassle might be tied to how we interpret what's happening around us."
Pyt reminds us to exercise judgment, accept imperfection, and refuse to allow everyday annoyances to mess with our Zen.