Sweden has a word ‘lagom’ which describes an inherent part of their culture that is all about life being not too little or too much but just enough. It’s the Goldilocks feeling of ‘just right’ and it applies to what you eat and drink to work to relationships and everything in between. It’s the lagom lifestyle that is thought to be the key to Sweden’s happiness. While Sweden may be further down the table in the latest World Happiness Report than its Nordic counterparts (Finland is in the top spot with Norway, Denmark and Iceland following) its position at ninth place, compared to the US and UK in 18th and 19th places respectively, suggests it’s worth paying attention to them.
So what is lagom (pronounced lah-gom) and what can we learn from it?
Lagom is eating until you’re satisfied, not until you feel over-stuffed or still hungry. It’s getting enough sleep to feel good, not so much you feel groggy or so little you’re exhausted. It’s caring for others while also taking care of your own needs (not me first or me last but me too). It’s saying the blog post you’ve written isn’t half-hearted or perfect but good enough to press publish.
There can be a too much feeling in life at times. There’s too much to do, we own too much stuff, there are too many expectations that we put on ourselves or that we feel from external sources, too much time spent on screens and working. And on the flipside there’s too little time playing or relaxing, too few hours in the day, not enough kindness, consideration and tolerance shown in the world. So, could aiming for just enough help us achieve some kind of equilibrium in our lives?
I’m not someone who’s keen on extremes. I don’t feel life is black or white but a billion shades of grey (or a rainbow) and to live by strict rules (outside of obvious moral and ethical codes of course) is making life unnecessarily challenging and setting yourself up for potential failure. With added helpings of judgement and shame.
One example where I think a lagom attitude can be helpful is in our digital device use. A feast or famine approach where you’re either glued to your smartphone or on a blackout ban doesn’t feel sustainable to me. Finding a way that works so you can have what feels like enough time online without it being so little you feel disconnected or so much it affects you negatively, is more realistic and manageable long-term.
A key to lagom is awareness, being mindful of how you feel, what you’re doing and what’s going on around you. If you pay attention to your mood or how your body feels you’ll be better able to sense if you need to go out for a walk or to take a nap. If you’re mindful of how much time you’ve been working on a project, or how it’s shaping up, you’ll be in a stronger position to know if you need to take a break, keep going or recognise that you’ve actually finished.
Think about your own life, what feels like too little or too much? Perhaps you feel you’re spending too much time looking at what other people are doing on Instagram and too little time focusing on what photos you want to take, what stories you want to share on social media. Or there’s too little time for your children to relax and play because of too many extracurricular activities in their timetable. Maybe there’s too much self-criticism, you give yourself a hard time over the smallest things, and too little self-kindness. Or perhaps you spend too much time in your head worrying about the future and too little time enjoying what’s happening in the present.
What can you do to start to address this and bring a little more lagom into your life? What’s one step you could take? Making a great big list of all the things and throwing yourself into revolutionising your life would be pretty overwhelming and probably not very lagom either! So perhaps look at one area and think about what enough would look like.
If posting on social media every day is stressing you out, how about taking it down a notch and posting every other day? If you feel overwhelmed by all the ‘stuff’ in your home perhaps tackle just one room or one item type, like clothes, and sort through what to keep and what to give to charity. If you’ve noticed you and your partner hardly have time for a proper conversation any more, why not try scheduling in a monthly date outside the home and without the children? If you mentally beat yourself up over every tiny thing you do imperfectly how about talking to yourself kindly, as you would to your best friend in the same position? If you find yourself getting lost in going over the same thoughts in your head, try listening to this month’s meditation to bring you back to the present moment.
What is lagom, or enough, for one person will be different to the next. It may be something you’re interested in applying to some but not all areas of your life, or it may not appeal at all! If you’d like to find out more about lagom here are a few books on the topic:
Gabrielle Treanor is a writer, podcaster and teacher specialising in the subject of how we can all worry less and enjoy life more. You can find the Pressing Pause podcast, inspiration, e-courses and a wellbeing resource library at gabrielletreanor.com.