I don’t know if you’ve come across the word “lagom”. You may have – it’s somehow become a buzzword, much to the baffelment of us living in Sweden. If you haven’t:
“Lagom” is a very common word in Swedish. It’s pronounced with a long a – like the a in “path”. The meaning is basically “just enough”, but there is more to it. A very popular saying in Swedish is “Lagom är bäst”, which could be translated to “The right amount is best” but also “Enough is as good as a feast” and “There is virtue in moderation”, depending on the circumstances.
“Lagom” describes balance, not excess. To make lagom food is to make enough for everybody but not so much that you can’t take care of the leftovers. To work lagom hard is to work efficiently enough that the necessary work gets done, but still have time to have a coffee break with your coworkers – and energy left for your family and friends when the workday is over. Lagom is to know when you’ve had enough, and stop there. To take just your share so that there is enough for everyone.
Swedish people are fascinated by the USA. Swedish TV – both the state-financed, the commercial and cable – is filled with American series and films (with subtexts, not dubbed – which is why Swedish children speak American English even if they’ve never been abroad). Advertisements are nowadays often not translated at all, since people are expected to understand them anyway. With these influences there has been a tendency in Sweden the last decades to mock the ancient lagom way of thinking. “You are so lagom – come on, live a little!” “Bigger is better (or less is more) – lagom is for people without visions.” “Let the stars shine – lagom is so gray and dull!” Imagine the confusion when lagom suddenly becomes a buzzword in the UK and US…
I like lagom, always have, but I haven’t really given it much thought. You know what it’s like, the everyday things that you don’t really see until somebody comments on them? With this new hype I’ve been thinking about it more, and I think maybe lagom comes from living in a harsh climate. Sweden is a country with very definite seasons. The season for growing things is limited – autumn and winter are long and cold. Before this age of transports all over the world people had to plan for the future, and taking more than your share would mean taking away from somebody else’s. So a culture of lagom would be a good way to keep more people alive, and society thriving. And the land as well – to grow lagom crops on your land, change the crops every year and let the land rest every few years, would be sustainable for a long time. Start getting to greedy and a few years down you’ll starve.
Actually, these days are no different, it’s just that the people who loose their shares live so far away that we don’t see them. And the soil that is not well cultivated and thus reduced to dust is not in our neighborhood. We are privileged, and we could really use a global sense of lagom.
But lagom is good also in the small perspective. Lagom gives you a way to live comfortably – you can exercise , but you don’t have to become super fit, just exercise lagom so that you feel better and get a little stronger. And you don’t have to find a perfect diet to follow, just do it lagom and find what works for you. Some nights with to much fun and to little sleep are not a problem either – as long as there aren’t to many, just lagom.
Just remember that what is lagom for you isn’t in all ways lagom for everybody. When Mr L and I started living together we tried taking a romantic bath – you know, candles and wine and soft music, just the two of you in the tub with visions of things soon to come… But we discovered that what I consider lagom water temperature was scolding to him, and his lagom made me cold. (Nowadays we take a sauna together instead.)
My blog is dedicated to searching for a simple life, but it could just as well be about finding a life of lagom.