How to Practice the Swedish Art of 'Lagom'

Sep 8, 2018 at 12:00 p.m. ET
Woman canoeing on a lake.
Image: PETER AMEND/Getty Images. Design: Mike Commins/SheKnows.

It's fair to say we're a little invested in Scandinavian culture right now, and it goes way beyond lining our walls with Ikea furniture. We're hygge-ing out our homes or at the very least trying to add some gezellgig to them, while also suggesting more people take time out for fikaa coffee and pastry break, instead of (or in addition to!) happy hour. But just in case you thought you'd brought all the Nordic trends home, there's another you should know about: "lagom."

Pronounced LAH-gum, it is kind of like Sweden's version of mindfulness but rooted in a collective spirit and moderation. Lagom roughly translates to “not too little, not too much” or "just enough," though its full essence goes further than that. 

Sound like a vibe you need in your life? Here are just a few ways you can practice lagom.

1. Slow down

Lagom is largely about the art of slow living. Not rushing around so much, not always being driven by whatever the next great thing could be. Try taking more time to appreciate the experience you’re in, whether that’s savoring a success (rather than planning for the next one) or taking your morning routine at a more leisurely pace.

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2. Spend some time in nature

The Swedish take outdoor recreation time seriously. In her book Lagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living, Linnea Dunne says the Swedish have a rule called allemansrätten, which literally means "freedom to roam." It is a nearly universal right to access the outdoors. It doesn't have to be a butt-kicking hike, but rather whatever kind of activity that puts you in touch with nature. And lagom isn’t the only practice that utilizes this concept — you’ve probably heard about the Japanese practice of forest bathing. So take a walk by yourself in a nearby park, or a weekend trip to the mountains and let nature give you just enough of what you need. 

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3. Simplify your possessions

Lagom may sound similar to the principles of minimalism, but rather than obsessing over how little you can live with, lagom is more about encouraging people to focus on having enough — knowing that those parameters change regularly. Dunne's book also recommends trying out a capsule wardrobe. The capsule should focus on the functionality and comfort of clothing to cut down on unnecessary closet clutter. At home, she suggests ample storage space and taking up hobbies like knitting that can be used to decorate your home.

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4. Try a little fika

We’ve written about the concept of fika before, essentially an additional break during the day for a coffee and pastry with friends. No surprise, fika is totally part of the lagom lifestyle. These coffee breaks are generally unrushed, cozy and full of conversation. And there’s plenty of science that suggests that breaks can improve your focus, so if you’re having trouble making an argument for why slowing down is useful, now you have it.

5. Focus on the success of the community

As Dunne writes, the Swedish culture she grew up in was focused intensely on rules and the collective well-being. While lagom is a more friendly approach, it still prides itself on “just enough” — because then everyone is getting their fair share. “A lagom attitude can help you feel part of something bigger and provide a sense of purpose,” she writes. Sounds like something we could all use right now.

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