I started off my quarantine optimistically with a mental list of cupboards to organize, webinars to take, and books to read. I had visions of midday yoga classes and morning walks. About two weeks in, though, I wanted nothing more than to crawl into my bed and watch mindless TV. This is pretty typical in my life. I go all out until I’m exhausted, crabby and need a time out to do nothing.
I needed to find balance and learn to stop being so hard on myself for not doing all the things.
Luckily, one of the books I had on my to-read list was Lagom: Not too Little, Not Too Much: The Swedish Art of Living a Balanced, Happy Life by Niki Brantmark.
Lagom doesn’t have a direct English translation, but it can be loosely defined as everything in moderation, not too much or too little, or finding a balance that works for you, Brantmark wrote.
For example, the lagom home isn’t too cluttered. Furniture pieces are functional, and décor is minimal. Instead of a large flower display, a lagom vase would hold a single bloom and maybe some greens or twigs.
Lagom physical activity would be what feels good—maybe a bike commute or a nice walk through a forest rather than waking up at 5 a.m. to run 10K in the rain. Work would be performed with intention and then the employee would go home rather than waiting around for the clock to strike 5.
This sounded great to me. I wanted to learn more, so I turned to a friend of a friend: Ia Dubois, a retired lecturer at the University of Washington Department of Scandinavian Studies who grew up in Sweden and relocated to the Seattle area.
Lagom Culture in Sweden
Dubois describes lagom as the middle way. Conformity, humility, and finding a middle ground were woven into the Swedish culture, which could sound harsh to Americans. But it also instilled a sense of community and making sure everyone had enough.
Take too much at the grocery store and there won’t be enough for someone else, for example. Fewer restrictions are needed because individuals are trusted to know what good behavior is–with guidance from experts–and make decisions based on that.
Lagom in Daily Life
While lagom can be used in many senses, it’s often used in the context of quantity.
“You can’t take too big of a portion when you eat because that’s gluttony and that’s too much, so just take enough,” Dubois said.
She explained this is why the last appetizer remains on the plate or the last slice of cake gets cut into 10 pieces. Taking it without at least offering it around would earn you a disapproving look.
“You’re not supposed to take the last bite of anything,” she said.
On a personal level, lagom could mean doing just enough for yourself to feel content. Moderation is a common theme for healthy living tips. Having too many possessions can leave you feeling stressed and lead to physical hazards around the house. Overdoing a workout can leave you exhausted and make you want to quit all together. Working long hours can lead to resentment and chronic health conditions. Having and doing just the right amount could be the secret to living a content, fulfilled, balanced life.
I tried it for myself. Taking classes, working out, writing articles, and making complex recipes every day in quarantine was not lagom. Going for a walk, writing one article, and checking on my plants in the evening? That’s lagom.
Want to learn more about Swedish culture? Visit the National Nordic Museum virtually!
Image by simonapilolla