Lagom: The Swedish pursuit of balance

04 July 2017 - mindful living

In 2016, the Internet embraced hygge, a Danish word that espouses a lifestyle philosophy about the conscious cultivation of contentment by enjoying life’s simple pleasures. Think candlelit homes, comfy clothes and gatherings with loved ones. (More about hygge.)

Enter lagom

Pronounced lah-gom (like in ‘car’ and ‘prom’), lagom is a Swedish word that may well be the next hygge. But what does it mean and how’s it different?

Lagom underpins what attracts us to many Scandinavian concepts including hygge and fika: simplicity and contentment. Lagom means ‘just the right amount’. It encourages balance and moderation, philosophies that have crept into many aspects of Swedish life, from work and politics to fashion and design.

Lagom vs. hygge

Where hygge may encourage doing that little bit extra to attain calm and comfort, lagom seems to be about knowing when to slow down or stop. According to Elliot Stocks, co-editor of Lagom, hygge “captures a moment in time” while lagom is “an approach to life as a whole”.

Practising lagom

What’s so appealing about living life with balance and moderation? Here are some examples of how people practise lagom:

1. Balanced eating. It’s no secret that healthy eating is about having things in moderation. Meal planning helps.

2. Quality over quantity. Scandinavian design is well-respected for its functionality and sustainability, which rests on the concept of lagom. We can start by doing research about materials that are affordable and/or last longer (for your clothes, appliances etc.) so that you live a lifestyle with less waste.

3. Buy/own less stuff. This stems from #2. Minimalism is trendier these days, but why? Author and meditation teacher Susan Piver describes sobriety as “Pared down. Sharp eyed. Awake.” The same could be said of minimalism. When we stop consuming mindlessly, we’re able to gain greater clarity about what really matters to us. We gain control of our mental chatter (and finances) as we’re not constantly needing more.

4. Re-evaluate your priorities. Do you have the work-life balance you want and need? Are you grateful for what you already have?

It’s about removing excess. These aren’t new practices but as clinical psychologist Dr Jessamy Hibberd says, “We all need to recognise that contentment tends not to be from having things. It’s an internal state and it’s the simple things that make you feel it.”

Re-thinking ‘balance’

Some Swedes in the arts apparently find lagom boring or insufficient. Is there value in excess or imbalance? In On Balance, psychoanalyst Adam Phillips writes about the danger of striving towards balance for the sake of it: “[T]here are situations in which it is more dangerous to keep your balance than to lose it. We should not, perhaps, underestimate our wish to lose our balance, even though it’s often easier to get up than to fall over. Indeed, the sign that something does matter to us is that we lose our steadiness.”

‘Balance’ isn’t static. It’s more important to make intentional choices that serve us as we grow rather than follow a rigid set of rules. As Oscar Wilde put it, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

What balances and fulfils you? Re-evaluating our needs from time to time is useful, and trending words such as hygge and lagom are perhaps just good reminders to continue that process.

What are your favourite words that don't have direct English translations? Let us know at hello@mindful-company.com.

- The Mindful Company Team