Perhaps you heard of “Hygge” a few years back? It was the lifestyle trend straight out of Denmark of creating a cosy home and taking the time to just be, and be happy. Lagom is its Swedish cousin. This word, which means “neither too much, nor too little”, sums up the Swedish clean living philosophy based on moderation, awareness of oneself and others, balance in all things and contact with nature. Here are its principles for a day-to-day life imbued with happiness.
Neither too much, nor too little is the way to happiness
The word lagom (pronounced LAAAA-GOM), which has no one-word equivalent in English, sums up the search for “just the right amount”. It’s a way of life that puts moderation front and centre and advocates a happy medium in all things. This idea of “less is more”, which has been around for centuries in Sweden, is said to have originated in the gatherings during which the Vikings would pass around a horn of mead, each taking only a sip, so that there would be enough to go round for everyone. This mindset is firmly rooted in everyday life and the collective subconscious, which are tinged with minimalism and concern for the environment. The idea is to be happy with what you have, favouring quality over quantity and experience over possession, all the while being grateful and respectful. It’s about seeking balance in all aspects of one’s life by valuing the here and now, celebrations and good company. It’s about cultivating just the right amount of what we need to be happy.
Lagom – the art of being middle-of-the-road, the Swedish way
In Sweden, people avoid “standing out”. Quite the opposite – doing everything like everyone else is the done thing – no more, no less. Sure, you want to have a nice house, but not the biggest one on the street, nor the smallest one for that matter. Preferably the same as that of your neighbour. That way you’re sure to be well regarded. The same goes for the way you dress, being casual every day and for everyone. It is said that when observing people heading out to work in the morning in Stockholm, you can’t tell them apart in terms of social class. So everything is smoothed over, and according to Swedish social codes, ideally nothing sticks out and no-one tries to talk over anyone else. With networking and openness to the world, Swedes, who may have felt a kind of pressure to always be moderate, have found an outlet in the form of creation. Swedish design, small-scale fashion designers and interior designers have become renowned internationally.
Simplicity and Nordic environmental awareness
This way of life from the north, and therefore from a cold climate, is a throwback to an appreciation of the bond and sense of moderation that were essential to survive the long, harsh winters in times gone by. These days, lagom teaches us to value the simple things and to refocus on what is essential. You do some gardening or painting instead of watching TV, and reinforce the connection with nature every day. It has to be said that in Sweden people have a healthy respect for the omnipresent wilderness. You can skate on frozen lakes in winter, go berry picking in summer and cycling whatever the season. Swedish people, whose awareness of their reliance on and vulnerability in relation to nature is passed down through the generations, have environmental awareness coursing through their veins. Moreover, the Swedish constitution states that everyone has the right to explore nature wherever they are, provided that they do not cause damage to anything and that they are respectful of the flora and fauna. Lastly, having a second home is not a luxury in Sweden, and most families have one! They are often small, very basic traditional houses, and the aim is to be close to nature, without showing off.
Lagom consumer behaviour = pared-down consumer behaviour
This is a more mindful way of life (aside from the exceptions that are Ikea and H&M, behemoths that are anything but lagom) that invites us to restore meaning to life and consumer behaviour. A Swede, for example, will prefer to buy a very nice high-quality piece of furniture, with a soul, which can be passed on, rather than making multiple small purchases. Consumer behaviour is pared down, and sustainable too. In Sweden, before making a purchase it is common practice to find out about a brand’s commitments, manufacturing methods and ethics. Thus Swedish consumers shun fast fashion in favour of small-scale designers, and mass purchasing in favour of quality-oriented minimalism. Most importantly, Swedish people put leisure before consumerism. They favour home improvement, DIY, cooking and games over (over)consumption. Again, centuries of hard winters and survival account for Swedes’ subconscious motivation to refocus on their homes, where they spend a lot of time when it’s cold outside, rather than on shopping sprees. So peoples’ homes are very cosy inside and have to be comfortable with the feel of a “protective cocoon”. Swedish decoration, with its natural materials, is an endless source of inspiration.
In this search for the right balance to live happily, time spent with the family is valued over that spent at work, and lagom includes the company mindset. There is no presenteeism in Sweden. Working until late is rather frowned upon, as it points to inefficiency! But most importantly, you call it a day – whatever your job – early enough to be able to pick up your children from school. So there are very few childminders, because companies accommodate the family life of their employees. Working hours are tailored accordingly, and each parent is entitled to three months’ maternity or paternity leave so that they can be with their family. These are entitlements that everyone claims without being stigmatised or ostracised. This keeps work in its rightful place. In Sweden, everything is kid friendly. Even right in the middle of the day, cafés are full of parents (mothers and fathers) with their babies amongst the high chairs, getting together for a chat and a “fika” (coffee served with a sweet treat or two).
Lagom is a real philosophy to live by, somewhere between the slow life, minimalism and full mindfulness from which we can draw inspiration to live a better, more tranquil life. While Swedish laws support this trend, it is possible to make it your own by applying this contented moderation to everyday life. Taking care of yourself and your home, not letting work eat you up and making mindful purchases brings real personal satisfaction and a great deal of tranquillity. This is a clean vision of life to adopt without delay, all the more since the planet is also prompting us to follow the path of sobriety on a daily basis to safeguard it.