Lagom — a Swedish term that means “just enough” — is about having just the right amount of anything that will make you happy, no more, no less. It encourages us to be content with what we have rather than constantly look for new things that will make us happy.
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“At its simplest, the word describes something that’s ‘just enough’ or ‘just right’ — like the right amount of milk in your coffee or the perfect pressure of a massage,” explains Linnea Dunne in her book Lagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living. “In the bigger picture, the balance of Lagom goes way behind emotional wellbeing and interior design to become all about belonging and shared responsibility — not just fitting in, but being part of a greater entity.”
If you spent 2018 embracing Hygge, the Danish concept of coziness and comfort, by filling your closet with soft clothes, your home with candles, and your belly with hot tea sipped by a roaring fireplace, your life may already be infused with the Scandinavian vibe.
The concept of Lagom, however, helps put Hygge into perspective, encouraging you to use the resources you already have to enjoy your life rather than feel the need to go out and buy more scented candles, or replace all your perfectly serviceable furniture with artisan Nordic wood pieces.
A Lagom State of Mind
Have you heard the story about the person who had more money than he could ever wish for but still wasn’t happy? Or about the simple Buddhist Monk who has survived exile, oppression, grief, and stress, only to be considered one of the happiest people on the planet? The first man — the unhappy one — could be one of millions of people throughout history. The second is the Dalai Lama, the head monk of Tibetan Buddhism.
“If one's life is simple, contentment has to come. Simplicity is extremely important for happiness.” Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, is quoted as saying in The Dalai Lama Book of Quotes, by Travis Hellstrom.
“Having few desires, feeling satisfied with what you have, is very vital: satisfaction with just enough food, clothing, and shelter to protect yourself from the elements.” These Buddhist minimalist concepts can be equally attributed to Lagom.
Lagom and Clearing the Clutter From Your Life
“Less mess equals less stress. When we have too much stuff, it often results in feelings of being overwhelmed, and displeasure with ourselves and our surroundings,” says small space living expert Donna Smallin Kuper, who is also the author of Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness. To begin clearing the clutter from your own life, start small by paring down your belongings one room at a time and donating the things that don’t have any purpose in your life. Kuper offers these suggestions:
- Aim to surround yourself with things you love and use and give yourself permission to let go of the rest. How many vegetable peelers do you really need? How many pairs of black pants? If you’re undecided about whether to keep or toss an item, ask yourself: Would I buy this today if I didn’t have it?
- Always shop first in your own home. If you look in your closet, you might find something you’ve forgotten you owned.
- You may have several bottles of shampoo that you can use instead of buying more.
- Look at what’s in your pantry and create a meal around those ingredients.
- If you’re tired of your home décor, try re-arranging some furnishings to give your home a new look. Or shop at second-hand stores instead of going into debt for a new sofa.
- If you want to buy something you think you really must have, wait a day or two and then re-consider. You may find that you don’t really want it so badly after all.
Lagom at Work
Keeping the concept of Lagom in mind can also help you be better at your job. “How many times have you been to a meeting where people interrupted each other? Or when one person took over the whole meeting? Or when there was so much discussion that no decision was made?” Asks Kira Copperman, Executive Coach and Workplace Communication Specialist.
“These barriers to effective communication and collaboration happen many times a day in most businesses. People who practice the concept of Lagom at work are better communicators because they put egos, hierarchy, and competition aside, prioritizing listening to each other and building consensus in order to get work done.”
Lagom in Your Belly
When personal chef Dana Lepene attended culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago, the classic French technique seemed inherently wasteful to her, with too many steps and way too much cream. Years after graduation, Lepene went on to launch her own line of hand-crafted preserves and now cooks for herself, her family, and her clients in a more mindful way.
Her advice is simple: “Make tasty food with real ingredients that you have on hand or can find easily including real butter, real bacon and real meat you can actually identify and pronounce. When you start with good, simple food, you don’t have to do much to it to make it delicious.”
To eat more Lagom, take your time to savor the flavors, and whenever possible, don’t multitask at meals or eat on-the-go. When you eat more mindfully, you generally don't need to eat as much, and you’ll be less likely to overeat.
Lagom in Your Life
“As a society, we are terrified of ‘running out’: running out of time, money, love, food, etc. So we hoard material goods, we cling to relationships, we overeat as we hurry from one moment to the next so we don’t ‘run out’,” explains Lepene. We live louder, faster, and more competitively, and as a result, burn out more quickly.
Swedes, on the other hand, are brought up living Lagom in their everyday life. In fact, Swedish immigrants who move to the U.S. often struggle with adapting to American excess. Immigrants like internationally acclaimed photographer and illustrator Bo Zaunders.
“When Bo and I married, he decided to freelance as a writer and photographer,” recalls his wife, award-winning children’s book author and illustrator Roxie Munro. “It was like pulling teeth to get him to ‘brag’ about himself and his accomplishments. He would downplay his resume and work. Living in NYC, and being an American, I was accustomed to the opposite — people exaggerating their resumes… bragging, overstating, even lying.”
Zaunders has built a strong career and name for himself since then, but Munro notes that his Swedish ethos remains a part of him. “It is STILL tough to get him to add his professional accomplishments to his introductory emails and calls.”
Lagom at Home
Embracing Lagom is as simple as changing your state of mind. All you need is a minor attitude adjustment to incorporate mindful, minimalist living into everything you do. Kuper recently pared down all of her belongings, sold her home, and moved everything she and her husband owned into an RV, making their life and belongings 100% portable. “In our small space, I like to say that we have everything we need, and nothing we don’t want. And that makes it easy to stay organized.”