What is lagom? It’s a Swedish term (pronounced law-gum) which means ‘just the right amount’ and it describes the Swedish attitude to life. It’s about having what you need, but not more. You don’t over-indulge in anything, but you’re not frugal either.
Elisabeth Carlsson, author of The Lagom Life, says: “Essentially, it’s about balance … so much of who I am, my views, my beliefs, my decisions are guided by this sentiment.”
While she rebelled against this way of life in her teens, Elisabeth later came to accept her own version of lagom living and apply its principles to all areas of her life.
The lagom way of life
According to Elisabeth, lagom can be applied to many things “how much ice cream you want, the size of your house, the spiciness of a salsa, how drunk you got last Friday (yes, really!) – but lagom signifies value as well as quantity.”
“Lagom is about moderation, a sense of balance and togetherness,” she adds.
For Swedes, it’s not about over-indulgence or doing things to excess, it’s about having just the right amount of everything.
It’s perhaps not surprising that Sweden is frequently named one of the top 10 happiest countries in the world.
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Everything stops for fika (coffee and cake)
Fika is one Swedish tradition which we’d be happy to adopt! Fika means ‘to have coffee’ and it usually means stopping to have a hot drink with some tasty cakes on the side (naturally).
For Swedes, fika allows them to take a proper break and connect with their friends, family or colleagues. Of course you can have fika by yourself, but the important thing is that you stop and have a rest. You can recharge your batteries and fully relax alone – or catch up on some gossip.
How to use lagom to improve your work-life balance
Lagom can be applied to any area of your life – including work. Linnea Dunne, author of Lagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living, says that the lagom philosophy is an essential part of working life in Sweden.
“Swedes have a near-religious relationship with their fika or coffee breaks,” she says. “In traditional working environments, employees enjoy a 15-minute fika every morning and afternoon, in addition to their lunch break, often complete with home-baked pastries to go with the compulsory filter coffee.”
In Sweden, preserving a balance between life and work is taken very seriously, and overtime is frowned upon.
“Born of a culture with a Lutheran work ethic and strong unions, there’s no denying that lagom takes work very seriously,” Linnea explains.
“Yet the importance of taking due time out of work is equally respected, with the majority of Swedish workers walking out the door the minute their contracted hours are up – and that’s after a number of decent fika breaks.”
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The lagom approach even applies to how you perform a task at work. Linnea says that if a new recruit asks their boss how long to spend on a task, they’ll reply: “Until it’s ready.”
This attitude means that workers will spend the right (lagom) amount of time on a project, handing it over only when it’s ready, without rushing or spending too long on something that’s already good enough.
Another fascinating Swedish work concept is förankringsprocessen. Linnea explains: “This is a concept for running ideas by everyone impacted by them, allowing everyone to voice their opinion and then discussing everything in detail before arriving at a decision that everyone can get behind.
“And “everyone” doesn’t just mean the board; it means the executives and the recently employed graduate, because who knows what groundbreaking perspective they might bring?”
Time away from work and fredagsmys
In Sweden, many businesses shut down for the summer, giving staff more time to spend with their families and ensuring that people get a proper summer break.
“In addition, parents get generous parental leave as well as the right to flexible working, or at least working shorter days, for the first eight years of a child’s life,” says Linnea.
Another popular Swedish tradition is fredagsmys, which translates into English as ‘Friday cosiness’. It’s all about getting together with your family, eating snacks and relaxing.
“Fredagsmys has become such a sacred concept in Swedish culture that there are well-known commercial jingles celebrating it,” she says.
If you want to give this a try yourself, Linnea has some advice: “Make it your primary aim to keep it simple. Swedes, who might otherwise be quite keen on the whole DIY thing in the kitchen, will happily buy store- bought dip mixes and taco kits with ready-made salsa on a Friday, all in the name of making it easy for themselves.”
7 ways to bring lagom into your life
Learn how to live lagom with these tips from Elisabeth Carlsson.
Don’t force yourself to be happy
A study at Berkeley in California monitored individuals who said happiness was their main goal and found that they were more likely to feel lonely. Sometimes you need to allow happiness to come naturally, rather than pursuing it.
Contribute to something greater than yourself
Find a way to give back to your community by volunteering for a local project, helping a friend or even taking part in a beach clean.
Take regular breaks
Make sure you take a few breaks even on busy days. You’ll work better when you’re refreshed – especially if you’ve had fika (more about that later!).
Learn to be contented
Finding inner contentment can be as simple as doing something you love, such as singing or playing a musical instrument. “Having a big party is not necessary for happiness, but having a hot drink with a friend could do it,” Elisabeth says.
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Change your way of thinking
Don’t ask yourself: “Can I do better?”. Instead, ask yourself: “Is this good enough?”
Reclaim your own time
Swedes like to keep their work life and home life separate – remind yourself of that the next time you’re tempted to stay late at work or check your emails over the weekend.
Bring lagom style into your home
In autumn, Swedish people like to make their homes cosy by shopping for snuggly blankets, cushions and lamps. If you’re going to be spending a lot of time there, you might as well make it cosy!
In the spring and summer, they like to declutter and give their homes a refresh with some new textiles or a curtain switch. Move your furniture to make the most of any sunny spots in your home.
Photo by Anjeli Lundblad, Inès d’Anselme, Julien Lanoy and Jon Flobrant on Unsplash.