I recently picked up a lovely little book on "Lagom" from the library by Lola Akerstrom.
I have to admit that I presumed “Lagom” was similar to the wonderful Danish “Hygge” (Getting that cosy feeling) which is why I’ve not delved into it earlier.
Within the first 2 pages of “Notes from the author” I realised that this was definitely not the case. I found this book to be a fascinating insight into this “Living Well” not so secret, secret from Sweden. This blog is based on info from the book but gradually creeps out beyond that. Enjoy!
Firstly, let’s get the pronunciation right. Phonetically it would be more like Laaaw-gum.
Akerstrom describes it as “Not too much, not too little, just right – the basis for achieving an optimal lifestyle where one gives and receives in equal parts”. She goes on to clarify that it is much more than “Moderation”. It can, apparently, help us to live in our most natural and effortless state. Finding balance and being more sustainable sounds right up my street. I can’t wait to dig in.
The history behind lagom suggests it was very much about taking your fair share, being a team player and passing around the mead filled horns! Nowadays it is as much about the individual as it is about conscious mindfulness in the community.
As with all ethoses it is not without issue. Some feel that due to the restraint and moderation required to “be” lagom it can interfere with creativity and ambition. Others believe it can lead to mediocrity and avoidance of challenges.
The book delves into pretty much all areas of our life from food to finance and fashion and everything in between.
To kick us off I’m really liking the thoughts on “Starting the day” – there’s a focus on destressing, minimalism and layering of breakfasts to keep things easy.
Swedish as a LANGUAGE is very direct – it gets to the point quickly! This may come across as a tad rude to outsiders but they consider it short and sweet. Lagom in action. Many people find it relatively straightforward to say “No” without feeling guilt – very freeing.
Another message coming out loud and clear is to LISTEN more and TALK less, thus providing us with more chance of understanding others. This is something that still eludes me despite being aware and working on it for quite some time.
They are pretty open about SEX and bodily functions. They love a good sweat and relax in the local “Bastu” (Saunas, which are found in abundance). Disrobing is standard and gender separated. Being naked in the sauna is not sexy, nor strange just how it’s done.
The more I read the more it becomes a little blurred and not straight forward. When it comes to feelings, for example, it encourages us to “Cry as much as we need to” and similarly “laugh as much as we need to” without shame. It seems to be very much about an individual’s perception.
The author states that Swedes are great lovers of FOOD, not in the sense of indulging, but more consciously nourishing the body and the soul. A quick scan of obesity rates around the world confirms that Sweden, at 90th fattest country in the world, is not doing too badly.
Next up is “Fika” - basically taking a number of BREAKS throughout the day to centre and reconnect with ourselves and others. Coffee is often part of this. They are the worlds 3rd largest coffee consumers (The Netherlands are at the top!).
“Versatility over Versace” jumped out at me. Akerstrom suggests they are open minded about FASHION. However, in their desire to blend in and not stand out, large groups of “individuals” can be seen with very similar clean lines and layered looks. The Swedish retailer Hennes & Mauritz (H & M) gives a glimpse into the mix and match world of their affordable clothing preferences. This company is the 2nd largest clothes retailer in the world. Whilst they have set themselves some pretty ambitious sustainability targets and are already taking part in a number of ethical initiatives, they are still part of the fast fashion industry. This presents problems for living “lagom”. Fortunately, there are oodles of vintage and second-hand stores dotted around the country which are regularly frequented by many sections of the society.
About half way through the book we come to the section which is of particular interest to me and my passion in decluttering and organising the HOME. “Away is good, but home is best” is the Swedish proverb which heads up this chapter on Décor & Design.
Their approach lies in minimalism with durable, high quality, effortlessly chic pieces. Lagom wants us to avoid clutter and balance practicality with memorabilia. If something is not useful or sentimental then it is considered unnecessary. The ultimate goal is for your place to evoke calm and happy feelings of belonging. Yep, I’m already there with all that.
Apparently, they are obsessed with LIGHT. Choosing the best lighting is deemed as important as say, sofa choice. From cosy candlelight to grand chandeliers they bring life to the home and brighten the souls.
I don’t think we can leave this bit without touching on the Swedish founded IKEA. Oddly it is not mentioned in the home section of the book and only touches briefly on it later. According to Wikipedia, Ikea is the world’s largest furniture retailer. We all know their super huge stores with modern and simple designs. You could argue that they lead us the “long, natural way” around the showrooms and tempt us finally in the marketplace to be anything but lagom. Oh, and they finish us off with those “interesting” illustrated instructions and associated Allen keys! On balance though they can add beautifully to our homes as long as we keep thinking “Not too much, not too little”!
When it comes to SOCIALISING there appears to be a few tensions. The guiding principle of lagom is to take care of yourself first (Without aggravating others). However, as mentioned earlier, it also embodies team work at its heart. Swedes tend to have a small circle of friends and it can take time and much effort to infiltrate these. They do enjoy organised activities and this can be one way in as often actions speak louder than words.
PATIENCE and respecting TIME are highly valued. Lagom draws strength from these values to build trust. These same virtues spill out into the world of BUSINESS. There is a Swedish proverb that says “A business is good when BOTH parties make a good bargain”. The element of fairness lies at the heart of it.
In a work environment participation by ALL is encouraged to hear as many voices as possible. This very inclusive style leads to pretty flat structures within organisations unlike the hierarchical pyramids of some other nations. And the good news for women is that the Scandinavian countries lead the way when it comes to the smallest gender equality gap.
The more I’m reading this the more I’m connecting. Many of my core values are coming out in here. I’m liking the sound of it and feeling very comfortable with this spirit of living. I am also recognising that this is not for everybody.
Other fundamentals that come out of the last chapters include :-
· Swedes work to live, not the other way around. They have some of the most generous working hours in the world and constantly strive for a good work life balance.
· Efficiency comes from as much planning as is necessary – which could be quite extensive.
· Whilst the Swedes are not naturally ruthless it doesn’t stop them being extremely good negotiators. This is partly achieved through avoiding chit chat whilst still discussing in depth the detail that really matters. All done whilst avoiding sentimentality.
· Even the wealthiest in Sweden may have a relatively sparse home albeit with high quality items.
· When it comes to money Lagom takes a logical and common-sense approach, steering away from debt by questioning purchasing and moving towards saving. Even “tax” has positive connotations! The Swedish word for tax is “Skatt” which has another meaning – treasure !
· Lagoms greatest virtue is “Mindfulness”.
· The Swedish lifestyle is very closely linked and respectful of NATURE. From a very young age children are encouraged to spend time outdoors. This develops a protective streak in many, which leads the country to a high level of desire for sustainable options when it comes to the outdoors.
· Sweden officially ran out of rubbish at the end of 2016! Less than 1% of waste was sent to landfill and they looked to import waste for its recycling processors. This has come not only from government policy but from every individual in the country who contributes.
The conclusion of the book takes a really good balanced view of lagom and its cousin Jante (Jealousy and judgement). Akerstrom acknowledges it is not perfect and many Swedes feel conflicted. Others suggest that over the last 20 years Sweden has gradually been shaking off the reserve and self restraint it imposes. However there are still many who feel this overarching way of viewing and doing things has so much to offer us all. Me included.
I’ve found this book intriguing and not “average” by any stretch. It has made me look beyond the cover to find out more and I’m now even tempted to take a trip there to experience this first hand.
What do you know of Lagom and whether it can really help us to live in this natural and effortless state? I’d love to know your thoughts…