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  • Swedish Lagom: The Key to Balance?
  • Sonee Singh
  • DefinitionsHealingTravelWellness

Swedish Lagom: The Key to Balance?

Swedish Lagom: The Key to Balance?

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):

  • Eating
Swedes are known for eating fish, potatoes, small desserts, and fruit jams. They consume what is in season and what is easily sourced without depleting resources.  They eat meals with others, meaning their friends, family, and colleagues, and not at a desk by themselves.  Even on workdays, it is usual to see Swedes eating lunch at a restaurant.  They take time out to make sure they are eating a proper meal.
There is also the concept of fika, or taking the time to have coffee, while enjoying a treat, and catching up with friends.  It doesn’t have to be a complicated affair.  A picnic or park bench will suffice.  The purpose is to take time out- no matter how short- enjoy a snack, and spend time with people they want to connect with.

 

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.

  • Work
While the average office-working American works over 60 hours a week, the average Swedes works much less.  However, Swedes are known as one of the most productive working cultures, despite also being known for taking frequent breaks for things like lunch and fika.  The approach to frequent breaks is that during the hours that are spent working, work actually gets done.  They are hard-working and focused.
  • Dressing & Design
Swedes are also known for their simplistic and practical approach. It is rare to see fashion trends coming out of Sweden, because it is about comfort and convenience.  This is evident with IKEA where sales are about functionality, cleanliness, and a certain amount of DIY.  This approach extends to all types of design.  Craftiness and making things on your own are artfully combined with a clean and neat look.  Décor is simple and appealing.
Like in Asia, people take their shoes off as soon as they enter their home.  This ensure the home remains clean and ensures everyone is comfortable and relaxed.
  • Other Aspects of Life
Spending time outdoors, going for daily walks, walking or biking versus driving or taking public transportation, swimming in lakes or oceans, and taking baths are inherent to Swedish life. They are not just activities for health and wellness, but activities that are a regular part of life.  Health is part of their lifestyle, and not something additional they need to work on.

 

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.

Website Links

Thrive Global

References

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

Image

Unsplash, Julia Caesar

  • Sonee Singh
  • DefinitionsHealingTravelWellness