Last year was one of extremes — weather, politics, news and for me, home environments. (I moved from incredibly dry California to verdant and perpetually damp western Washington state.) So I could do with a bit of moderation in the coming year. Which is why I've found the Swedish concept of lagom so appealing — and others have too. (With no fewer than eight books on the subject, it's clear this is a trend.)
To learn more about it, I spoke with lagom expert Anna Brones, an author whose recently published book, "Live Lagom: Balanced Living, the Swedish Way," serves as a guide to this way of thinking. Some say lagom translates to the English word "moderation," but it's a little more holistic than that, much in the same way hygge means much more than "cozy".
The simplest definition of the term, according to Brones' book, is "... just right. Not too much, not too little," and it's "... a thread that ties many parts of Swedish society together, the cornerstone of personal behavior, design ethos, and community." She explains that in more detail in the video below:
It's all about balance
This more expansive way of defining lagom means it's also harder to pin down. Brones digs into it a bit more, telling me: "You'll commonly hear that lagom is one of those words that doesn't have a direct translation. However, the essence of lagom is something that we can all understand, as the idea of moderation and balance exists in most countries.
"But lagom has a more positive aspect to it. Certainly there are drawbacks to lagom, but in general, lagom is very much about celebrating balance and not focusing on what we give up, but what we get in return."
Aspects of how to interpret lagom are partly personal: "Lagom differs from person to person, because what makes me feel good might be different for you," says Brones. For one person, that might include creating a minimalist home and keeping possessions to the least number possible. For another person, it could manifest as a home that's more colorful, and includes more art, books and plants. Different people find comfort and relaxation in different environments, and knowing what you love — and then finding moderation within that framework — is what lagom is about, not a prescription to keep X pieces of clothing in your wardrobe.
A lagom life includes exercise and movement, both vigorous and relaxed (not always one or the other); work that can cycle between long days to finish a project and time within your career to look up and consider new avenues and ideas — like Google's famous 20 percent free time for employees. And it includes time with friends to lift you up, and time alone to check in with the self. "Solitude allows us space to think, reflect, to unwind, to avoid outer influences," writes Brones.
And balance in all areas of your life
Look at each aspect of your life: Work, exercise, consumption (food and otherwise), love and friendship, etc. What's off-balance and how can you even it out? That's lagom thinking. "When we are satisfied with just the right amount of all things, we live in better balance with ourselves, our community, and our environment," she writes.
Lagom isn't a guiding principal for individuals only; it's also a way of thinking socially and politically about equality and community. "What benefits the community at large benefits us as well," explains Brones in the video above (which also shows you how to make a very Swedish open sandwich).
This has a specific and meaningful impact on how we think of and interact with our environment. "I think that lagom and sustainability go hand in hand," says Brones. If we are more moderate in our consumption, the size of our homes, and how much we eat, the happier studies tell us we will be, and the lower our environmental footprint will be.
"I think the essence of lagom within Swedish culture comes very much from the idea that I don't take too much because if I do, my community doesn't thrive," she says.