Convention has it that people who drink alone have something missing in their lives (friends, a nightlife, lovers), but the Finnish have pinned it down to an art. They call it päntsdrunk, or the art of drinking alone in your underwear, or, alternatively, the path to Finnish Zen. Zen is described as a Japanese school of Buddhism that puts a premium on meditation and intuition—a practice that takes a lifetime of self-control to perfect. It all sounds so very monkish, so very forward-thinking, and so very unattainable. In short, so very unlike you and me.
Of all the best books of 2018, the most underrated one seems to be Päntsdrunk by Finnish journalist Miska Rantanen—a book serious and unserious writers seemed to hail as the modern man’s way to enlightenment. To quote the book, “it’s how to free yourself from the shackles of civilization.” Through alcohol. After-hours. In your underwear of choice (my husband’s boxers are mine).
Now what exactly is päntsdrunk? It’s an evolved version of the Finnish kalsärikanni, which is a simple compound word: kalsari (underwear) and känni (state of inebriation). As a practice from a country with the fifth highest happiness rating in the world, I’ll take it as the easiest guide to happiness, being from the Philippines—which is perhaps the hundred ninety third happiest country in the world (there being, oh, one hundred ninety five). It’s how I propose getting through the current administration unscathed.
Picture this: you’ve just come home from your nine to five; you’ve been shot down in the boardroom despite your best efforts, Globe is hunting you down with their fifty requisite texts per hour because it’s been a week and you haven’t paid your bill, and it’s only Wednesday. And there are two more board meetings before Friday when you can really let loose. It’s all very soul-crushing. And then you see that you have three San Miguel Light beers in the fridge, and the tension in your shoulders eases a little. You also haven’t seen Bodyguard on Netflix, and suddenly the horizon widens; suddenly your mojo sets in like love; suddenly nothing is insurmountable.
You find the remote and there it is—Richard Madden, who’s so ripped, he’s practically bursting from his cotton shirt. On your first beer, you note his Scottish brogue with some interest; on your second beer, you’re thinking he should be the next James Bond. On your third beer, you think you could advise him on his career, his love life, and how, if he played his cards right, he could be the second Scot to play 007. “Päntsdrunk aims at total relaxation and presence,” writes Rantanen, “it arrests work pressure and entails an evening spent in a planned fashion without the pressure to accomplish anything.”
In short, Zen mindfulness without the 10,000 hours spent raking sand in Kyoto.
Think Netflix with a very different kind of chill. Think Bridget Jones singing “All By Myself” while swigging her beverage of choice, or Edie Brickell singing in all earnestness, and without an ounce of self-pity, “being alone is the best way to be.”
Because päntsdrunk is the closest you can get to a deep communion with yourself—instead of being in a bar, you get to be in the environment of your choice, without the anxious pressure of having to hail a Grab while soused beyond recognition. Plus, your bathroom is clean.
Bear in mind that päntsdrunk is all about self-control (hence the three beers, and not six or seven), and is meant to tide you over until the next work day. It’s how Finnish people get over hump day in below zero weather conditions. Other people write poems (but we can’t all be T.S. Eliot), other people have päntsdrunk, which, at its heart, allows people to live with themselves. Especially if they’re sell-outs with corporate jobs when they’d much rather be T.S. Eliot.
The skeptics among us may ask how we actually get to be better and bigger persons by doing something as aimless and unproductive as (regulated) drinking. The answer, of course, is doing the soul work without knowing it. Without knowing how or why, the keel evens, and the heart is suddenly free from its shackles—and all it took was three beers and Richard Madden. And there you are, all set for tomorrow when you need to suit up, sell out, and pretend it’s what you’ve always wanted to do with your life.