Why we might all be 'living lagom' in 2018
The appeal and the benefits of a back to basics lifestyle.
This article was originally published November 23, 2017
It remains to be seen what 2018 holds, but if it's anything like 2017, the Scandinavian concept of lagom should still be trending large.
The ethos of lagom is more nuanced than the "not too much, not too little, just right" explanation often given as a shorthand, says writer Lola Akinmade Åkerström, the author of the new book Lagom: The Swedish Secret of Living Well. Lagom goes beyond being a simple philosophy and instead comes right to the Swedish psyche, Åkerström says; it may even explain why Swedes and other Scandinavian nations are among the most satisfied.
"The reason lagom is having its moment right now is that we're all looking for the very best way to combat stress in our lives because we're currently living lifestyles we can't sustain," according to Åkerström. "And considering Sweden has consistently ranked in the top ten of happiest countries with the best quality of life for its citizens, there's something we can all learn from lagom."
The concept of lagom is thought to be a very old one, which would explain why it is now so enmeshed in Swedish life. "The idea originally came from the Vikings, as they sat down and shared food and drinks," says Swedish psychologist, Niels Eek, "with everyone taking a 'lagom' amount, meaning that everyone got some, but no one went hungry."
Today that focus on caring for everyone's basic needs first is still a part of lagom, Åkerström says. "There's a lot you can learn about a culture based on how it handles stress," she says. Some cultures prioritize fighting stress first so they can be productive afterwards, and others work through the stress while trying to remain productive. In North America, she says, people battle through stress while also trying to stay productive, which leads to a lot of ingenuity and creativity in problem solving but is not exactly relaxing. The Swedish mentality is the first one, she says: get basic needs met, then move forward.
"Lagom is a stress-fighting state of mind," Åkerström explains. "Swedes prioritize taking care of their basic needs first and with the best quality they can afford so they are already setting the stage for contentment in their lives before pursing their dreams and wants in life."
That might sound especially appealing after a year in which many North Americans feel overwhelmed by the news and the stress of daily life. In the United States, 63 per cent of people are stressed about the future of the country and 57 per cent by the current political climate, according to the Stress in America survey released in November by the American Psychological Association. Canadians aren't faring much better, with roughly a third of our population concerned about the country's direction and a whopping 61 per cent of Canadians believing that future generations will be worse off, according to Nanos research published in November 2017.
Åkerström lives and works in Sweden and is married to a Swede, but was born in Nigeria, previously lived in the United States and travels frequently for her work, which she says gives her a unique perspective on the concept and its newly minted trend status.
"I marry the objectivity of a foreigner who has lived for extended periods of time with polar-opposite cultures, with the subjectivity of someone who has a personal and intimate relationship with Sweden on many levels," she says. "The beauty of interacting with lagom every single day is that I get to pick and choose the very best aspects of the lifestyle and incorporate it with my own culturally-rich background as well."
But you don't have to spend time in Sweden to learn to appreciate lagom, simply start applying its logic to your everyday decisions and internal dialogue, Eek says. "Instead of asking yourself 'Can I do better?' or 'Should I try harder?' ask yourself 'Is this good enough?' and 'Have I done my best?'" he suggests.
And if the answer is yes, that's just the balance lagom would have you strive for.