Lagom – Definition and Meaning
We’ve all been there with exam season. Those dreadful days leading up to exams are all about pressing our noses to the grindstone until it seems like we have nothing left of them. Then the exam passes, and students pass out from alcohol in celebration. And that is fine, but there comes a point when even the staunchest livers wave a white flag and beg for some water. And that’s when we, willingly or unwillingly, have to consider something Sweden has long mastered – balance.
Lagom is a Swedish word that roughly translates into “just the right amount.” The word comes from Swedish lag (law, judicial system) and is derived from its dative form laghum, meaning “according to law.” Over time, “according to law” was interpreted as “according to common sense,” and what was strictly judicial slowly merged with judicious. Rightfully so, as any judicious thinking understands the necessity for moderation, balance, and avoidance of excess whenever possible.
Lagom is all about striking a fine balance in all aspects of one’s life – from attitudes and habits to interior design. By the way, speaking of alcohol, one of the false etymologies states that lagom comes from laget om, the Viking tradition of drinking from the same horn and making sure everyone gets their fair share – in other words, balancing how much one drinks so that the others get some too. While this assumption is not true (at least etymology-wise), the Vikings were onto something with their alcohol consumption.
Lagom – The Swedish Art of Balanced Living
You already know that Scandinavian countries are among the happiest in the world. In the flurry of niksen, hygge, and lagom, it’s not difficult to see why – they simply know how to appreciate the finer things in life. The philosophy behind lagom stems from minimalism and its notion that we should be happy with what we have. Finding joy in your possessions does away with a good deal of online-shopping sprees, reducing the damage caused by the fast fashion industry. A part of this balance is reducing waste and clutter in our lives and finding happiness within (and not in material possessions).
The Many Faces of Lagom
In her book Lagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living, Linnea Dunne explores the many facets of what it means to incorporate the art of moderation in your life, ranging from home design to stress reduction and eating and drinking habits.
You’ve heard it already – work-life balance has become a buzzword among modern companies, many of which try to attract new employees by flinging false promises at them. But not to be too bleak about job prospects, striking that balance is actually of immense importance, and I am happy to see that both Millennials and Gen X-ers are holding their ground, especially with the Great Resignation (e.g., I quit my previous teaching job because management would literally hound me while I was trying to go to the toilet between classes – fairly unbalanced people if you ask me).
The Swedes are having none of those blurred lines. They particularly appreciate their fika, i.e., a mandatory coffee break at least twice a day in addition to regular lunch breaks. This is in accordance with the general notion that you should take regular breaks regardless of whether you’re working or studying. Swedish work culture also includes leaving work when your contracted hours are over and, chances are, it makes them all the more productive.
To incorporate lagom in your work-study life, you should follow suit:
- Take short breaks when you need them, and step away from your studies for longer periods every now and then. For example, take a vacation every six to eight weeks, even if it’s only for a few days of lounging at home.
- Don’t make yourself too available to your bosses – switch off your work phone and don’t answer emails on weekends. As a student, you might find it harder to balance it all – after all, there are times when we have to study over the weekend or stay up late, but make sure to compensate with ample downtime when the high-stress period is over.
Nutrition and Fitness
Your typical Swede has got this one covered, too. Besides drinking coffee, fika also includes some food (a cookie, pastry, or other convenient snacks). But despite indulging, Swedes keep it all under control with one type of cookie or granola bar. Apart from snacking, Sweden is keen on balanced meals rich in proteins, carbs, and healthy fats with fewer sugary treats.
This one is pretty easy to understand because as soon as you hit your twenties, you realize that you might need to tweak how you eat (and drink) now and then. What used to be a splurge at McDonald’s may now give your stomach quite a bit of grief. On the other hand, what drinks one Bloody Mary could wash down the next day may take about a week to digest now (and suddenly you realize why the guys from Hangover movies don’t remember a thing).
Luckily for you, these are easy enough to fix: Drink in moderation and try some healthy recipes. As always, no matter who you are, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to whip up a quick homecooked meal😊.
On the other hand, #fitspo has become one of those invasive little internet trends. Everyone is out there lifting, cross-fitting, jogging, and so on. While I will always recommend a healthy dose of exercise, it’s essential to keep tabs on how much time you spend at the gym.
You shouldn’t be kicking your own backside for longer than an hour on a daily basis (ideally even less). Be careful so that it doesn’t become too obsessive. Additionally, to truly live in the spirit of lagom, learn to be happy with your body wherever it is at the moment. Don’t go to the gym only in hopes you’ll change your physique – do it to improve your health, general fitness, flexibility, and strength (and physical changes will follow). PS Fitness looks different on everyone!
A Lagom Example of a Balanced Social Life
You know this one well! Sadly, there is some truth to that, but it seems that lagom solves almost all our problems! No time for too much socialization? No problem: Swedes prefer succinct exchanges without too many platitudes. If you ask someone how they are, they will tell you, most likely in detail (get ready for some medical history you had zero interest in!). Swedes take language seriously and only ask questions that they want to hear the answers to.
As you know, Sweden is the home of IKEA, and rightly so because the Swedes prefer to socialize at home. They’re less likely to go out partying every night. Instead, they’ll organize a get-together, shoot some breeze, and have a few drinks. What we can take from this is the importance of how you spend your free time. Choosing to have a few friends over or meet them for coffee in a quiet café places more value on your relationships because it shows you’re genuinely interested in hearing about their lives. Going out and partying is not necessarily the best time to have a serious conversation or announce you’ve just got back with your ex for the seventh time.
Jokes aside, if you’re a party animal, you don’t need to give up all your nights out, but you can and should carve out some time for your friends when you will pay attention to one another and how you’re feeling. Lagom is all about valuing collective experiences while still not forgetting the individual. You can also see this in study groups where people come together to help one another, share a sense of community, and celebrate each other’s successes.
Lagom – Swedish Attitude to Our Planet
Getting back to not forgetting individuals in the grand scheme of things: With lagom, every individual is equally responsible for common well-being, including being responsible for the future of our planet (and us tiny ants on it). Reverting to the roots of this article, lagom is all about balance and treasuring your possessions instead of spending relentlessly on stuff you’ll never wear or use.
Reducing mindless shopping certainly doesn’t destroy capitalism, but it is a small way to counter single-use plastic and reduce toxic waste and detrimental activities around fast fashion. Incorporating the Swedish art of balance into your environmental consciousness is quite simple: Start by separating your trash and recycling what can be recycled. It doesn’t take much to take your cans or plastic bottles to the proper waste dispenser, now does it?
If you can afford it, you can upscale where you stay by furnishing it with natural materials and supporting local manufacturers instead of having something shipped across several continents. Minimalist interior design is a common lagom way of appointing homes, so try to declutter in a meaningful way by selling or donating some extra stuff. Please don’t just dump it because someone might need it more than you do.
If you have a garden, you might want to try and grow some of your own produce (who knows, maybe you have a green thumb!) and get a better sense of what kind of fruits/veggies to expect at which time of the year. It might be great that your supermarket has strawberries in Winter, but as a typical Summer fruit, that just means an unnecessary amount of chemical processing has gone into them, which is bad for you and the planet.
On the other hand, if you’re more of a travel bug than a homebody, you can find ways to do it sustainably by reducing your CO2 footprint and contributing to local communities. Go for economy flights with CO2 taxes (a couple of bucks only) and use public transport whenever you can. Shop and eat locally, and don’t be afraid to stray off the beaten track to discover the beauty of the place you’re visiting.
PS If You’re Wondering about Hygge vs. Lagom
Have you noticed how all these lovely lifestyle concepts come from Scandinavia? Both lagom and hygge are of Scandinavian origin and denote very appealing types of lifestyles. Hygge (mainly Danish) is all about being very cozy and comfortable in your home, skin, and life, whereas lagom is finding the right balance while doing it. As you can see, these concepts are not mutually exclusive.
For example, hygge with a dash of lagom is enjoying a TV night wrapped in blankets with a cup of hot chocolate and some snacks rather than binge-watching Netflix every day with takeout pizza and three tubs of ice cream. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with pizza and ice cream (speaking of, I have a craving for some right now), but it’s good to practice everything – even comfort – in moderation.
Scandinavian Lagom – Just the Right Amount of Perfection
To recap, lagom is the Swedish art of finding balance in every aspect of our lives, from studies and nutrition to environmental protection. To introduce more lagom into your life, you can:
- Practice moderation when working and studying by taking regular breaks.
- Enjoy foods and drinks you like in moderation – not every weekend needs to be a suicide mission for your liver.
- Recycle waste and avoid single-use plastics.
- Stay away from compulsive shopping (especially for things you don’t need).
- Plan out quality time with your loved ones and appreciate them for who they are.
- Learn to love what you have.
You can, indeed, have it all – as long as you don’t overdo it! 😊
Source: Dunne, Linnea. Lagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living. Gaia, 2016.
The Hangover II, Netflix.com.