There is a prescription for the perfect kind of happiness that one of the happiest countries in the world, Sweden, has been following for years. It’s called lagom or being content with ‘just enough’. The term dates back to the age of the Vikings who, between the 9th and 11th centuries, travelled by sea from Scandinavia to Europe and beyond, taking control of many of its parts. According to legend, a group of Vikings once sat around a campfire for supper. The head of the group passed meat around the circle in such a manner that everybody got just enough—not less, not more. As a result, nobody starved or scarfed it down. A fine balance was maintained.
Through time, lagom assimilated into the Swedish way of life as an all-encompassing ideology applying to health, work, home, relationships, money, and the environment, in addition to things such
as consumption habits, responsibility, punctuality, leadership and charity.
Even though lagom is a Swedish Weltanschauung, its universality makes it relatable to all. “Lagom is about small progress over extraordinary feats in thought, words and actions,” says Mumbai-based life coach Kinjal Parekh. “It extols a mindset shift, a lifestyle change that enables you to juggle everyday priorities better by remaining fair, balanced and reasonable.”
Two ways of looking at lagom
Lagom is expansive in scope, in that it can be applied to just about everything in life, but for easy understanding, the philosophy can be understood through two of its important strands—cognisance about how our actions impact people, and personal satisfaction.
Socially, lagom is the ability to live in a fair, truthful and empathetic way, to understand people’s needs and to know that our behaviour can impact others. “It entails being measured in your conduct at work, home and in society. You operate with awareness and mindfulness about other people’s needs as much as your own. This is personified in the law of Jante, practised widely in many Scandinavian countries. It’s the principle that ‘you are no better than anyone else’. The idea promotes an egalitarian view of society, where blowing your own trumpet is looked down upon. It is no surprise then that Sweden is one of the world leaders in gender equality.
The second strand of lagom is through the prism of contentment in a state of balance. It ditches the idea of the ‘more the merrier’ and ‘bigger the better’. Lagom sits comfortably between a profligate lifestyle and a puritanical one. “It’s about valuing the simple things. Enjoying a home-cooked meal with
a friend is enough; an extravagant soirée with 20 of them will not necessarily be more fulfilling,” says Gurugram-based emotional freedom technique trainer, Chandrima Rana, who believes lagom is a simple cure to modern-day complexities. Here are a few ways in which one can live with lagom.
You don’t need a bank-bruising gym membership or a pair of limited-edition sneakers to get fit. A walk around the block will suffice and that’s exactly what lagom affirms. “Indulge in the things you enjoy, but know when to stop. Consider cutting down on liquor or perhaps swap your choice of beverage with something with lower strength. Stay optimally hydrated; not too much or too little. Contrary to popular belief, tanking up on too much water can affect the kidney. Take it a notch up by reducing waste. Start growing a few herbs and vegetables,” says Noida-based nutritionist Gauri Chawla.
Additionally, lagom in emotions is important to manage and respond to everyday challenges with composure. In his book, Spontaneous Happiness, American celebrity doctor Andrew Thomas Weil summarises lagom succinctly: contentment, serenity, comfort, balance and resilience.
“No amount of yoga can help workplace burnout. Drawing boundaries can. Replace the ‘I can do it all’ approach with ‘I will do what is realistically possible’. Lagom is about finding meaning and purpose in what you do as opposed to surviving for that payday. Strike a balance between the willingness to learn and grow, and to let go. Be flexible, but not always available,” says Rana. “Most importantly, working with lagom means not spending extra hours at the office and doing more of what you love,” she says.
Happiness is not a matter of intensity but balance, order, rhythm and harmony, said American Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton, who believed lagom to be the instrument that helps us achieve that. Bring lagom into your personal space by dumping the toxic hustle culture and embracing a sustainable way of life and all the simple pleasures it has to offer. Lagom calls for centeredness and purposefulness in all aspects, be it sleep, fitness or self-care. “Get optimum sleep every day; an excess or deprivation may increase your chances of high blood pressure, diabetes, even a heart attack.
Also, it’s a misnomer that you can compensate for less sleep by oversleeping on the weekend. Exercise for about 30 minutes five times a week. On days you don’t feel like it, find something lighter to do, but stick to the routine,” says Chawla. Lastly, take care of your needs. Self-care begins with self-awareness. It is not a one-time deal, nor is it about fancy things such as spending the day at a boujee spa. A warm bath could be equally fulfilling.
Minimalism in matters of decor and design is key to applying lagom to the home space. Get rid of the superfluous things. Rethink the layout of the room, keeping functionality and practicality in mind. Be smart about space management. “Use walls for storage in the form of wall shelves. Buy multi-purpose furniture or multistory beds, as well as sliding doors and drawers,” says Gurugram-based architect and interior designer Rahul Metha. While you’re at it, simplify the wardrobe space that tends to be strewn with excess. There are countless other ways of living with lagom. You just have to find the right balance between them all.
What is lagom
Lagom can be applied to everything in life, but for easy understanding, the philosophy can be understood in two ways. First, cognisance about how our actions impact people. It’s about being fair, truthful, empathetic and measured in your conduct at work, home and in society. You operate with awareness and mindfulness about other people’s needs as much as your own. Second, lagom can be seen through the prism of contentment in a state of balance. It ditches the idea of the ‘more the
merrier’ and ‘bigger the better’.