Lagom is a Swedish word roughly translating to “not too much and not too little,” “everything in moderation,” or “just right.”
I heard it for the first time a few of weeks ago through an article on Thrive Global claiming “Lagom: How The Swedish Philosophy for Living a Balanced, Happy Life Can Help You Live a Meaningful Life” (Oppong, 2018). I was intrigued because I- like I would imagine most of us- am interested in living a meaningful life.
After reading it I immediately reached out to my Swedish friend, Agnetha Gustavsson. Initially all I wanted was to know if the article was accurate, but I grew more intrigued. Could lagom really provide the balance and meaning many of us are hoping for? Here is what I found in my quick research.
Lagom & The Vikings
Apparently, the concept of lagom originated in Viking times where a container of mead was passed around the group and each person was expected to sip just enough to make sure there was enough to go around for everyone (Brantmark, 2017).
Whether or not this marks the true origin of lagom, it is an integral part of Swedish culture. Agnetha mentioned that “it's not something we Swedes think of- it is just part of how we want life to be.” It is about taking just enough so that everything can be enjoyed.
Lagom In Action
Lagom is evident in many aspects of Swedish life including how they eat, work, dress, design, and generally live their lives. Niki Brantmark explained some of these in her book Lagom: The Swedish Art of Living a Balanced, Happy Life (2017):
When cooking food at home, they buy only what they will eat-no more, no less- and they include meals made out of leftovers in their meal preparation for the week. If possible, they grow some of their own produce at home.
- Dressing & Design
- Other Aspects of Life
That does not mean that Swedes do not ever do anything in excess. They certainly do and are known to celebrate in big ways. Summer festivals, weddings, and other kinds of celebrations are integral to their lives. But, if the indulge for a few days, they will abstain for others. The achieve balance by celebrating, but not too often.
Lagom in Reality
Agnetha explained that “the concept of lagom is very deep in the Swedish culture.” But, she explained that there are two aspects of it. One is as I described, which is the “balance between work and play,” and is something that everyone strives for, but is not always able to incorporate.
The other aspect is based on the concept of jantelagen, which says that everyone is the same and one person is not better than another. Being prideful, talking about success, or wanting to stand out is not seen positively. While this plays well to reduce competition and comparison, there is a downside. As Agnetha explained, it does “not allow anyone to be more successful than their neighbor,” which leads to not celebrating or hiding accomplishments.
The truth is that there are upsides and downsides to everything, and lagom is no exception.
What I take from lagom is to do everything in moderation, which I have been striving for. I don’t think life is about total abstinence or total indulgence, but rather about having moments of each or a little of everything.
Learning about lagom has also made me realize that living a simpler life is easier. I’ve spent chunks of my life living out of suitcases and have been as happy or happier than I do now with a closet full of things. I don’t need most of what I own. Lagom is inspiring me to do a spring cleaning.
It also is inspiring me to go back to Sweden, and this time consider the Swedish lifestyle in a new light.
Brantmark, N. (2017). Lagom: The Swedish Art of Living a Balanced, Happy Life. New York, NY: Harper Design.
Oppong, T. (2018). Lagom: how the Swedish philosophy for living a balanced, happy life can help you live a meaningful life. Thrive Global. Retrieved on February 20, 2018 from https://journal.thriveglobal.com/lagom-the-swedish-philosophy-for-living-a-happy-life-might-just-help-you-live-a-more-balanced-and-9bed612b4f7c