By 2016 the Danish idea of “hygge” — or “cozy,” in loose translation — had nestled itself into the American psyche, a buzz-word that launched millions of hygge-worthy Instagram posts. Now, the Swedish idea of “lagom” — the endeavor to find balance — is being touted as the “new hygge,” trending on Google and Pinterest and headlining books much the same way the hygge craze began.
Lagom, pronounced “lah-gom,” essentially means “not too much, not too little” and is the Swedish ideal of finding balance and happiness in life.
We might be wise to take some clues from Sweden and Denmark, which have regularly been named two of the happiest countries on Earth. Based on factors that include social support, freedom of choice and generosity, Sweden is the ninth happiest country, while Denmark is the third happiest, according to the 2018 United Nation World Happiness Report. (For comparison, the U.S. was ranked 18th this year.)
But could these two Scandinavian lifestyle trends really hold the key to American happiness? What really lies behind the obsession with these ideals?
To find out, I caught up with Niki Brantmark, author of “Lagom: The Swedish Art of Living A Balanced, Happy Life” and founder of the blog My Scandinavian Home, on a recent trip to Sweden.
1. Strike a balance: “When I moved over from London — a vibrant, bustling city where people are burning the candle at both ends,” says Brantmark, a British transplant to Sweden, “I realized no one else was in a rush, no one else was busy, and I asked what was going on here. I heard this word lagom bouncing around and it started to make sense to me what it’s all about — not too rushed, but not too slow, they try to strike a balance in everything we do. It’s a much more sustainable way of living.”
2. Take a minute to yourself: Putting down “your tools and taking regular fika — coffee breaks — is actually a more efficient way of working since taking time out helps to rebuild your energy levels.”
3. Actually take that lunch break: “A lunch break is essential – in fact it’s important to remember the mantra, ‘You’re too busy to not take a lunch break.’ Taking the time to eat healthy, brain-boosting foods and getting your blood pumping and fresh air in your lungs through a brisk walk will set you up for the rest of the afternoon when energy levels tend to slump.”
4. Make time for your health: “Try to find ways to incorporate exercise into your day – biking to work, getting off the bus / train two stops before your destination or taking the stairs instead of the elevator means slightly less time at the gym and more time for things you love! Plus, you’ll feel healthier!”
5. Leave work at the office: “Single-tasking is the new name of the game — you’ll get way more out of something if you’re not distracted by other things. Try to leave your work behind at the office. Turn off notifications and even turn on your out-of-office reply – anything that helps you to be able to switch off. Likewise, try to respect your colleagues’ downtime / holidays too, and help to build a culture that respects personal time. I can guarantee you’ll create a happier, more positive and, ultimately, more efficient work culture.”
Not everyone, however, thinks lagom is the answer to life’s daily stresses.
Freelance journalist Richard Orange, another Brit now living in Sweden, thinks lagom is a “suffocating doctrine of Lutheran self-denial,” as he expressed in an op-ed in the Guardian last year. While balance is apparent in every aspect of their lives, Orange believes the cost of lagom is a lack of ambition. “A lot of lagom is about holding back,” Orange said. “The longer I live in Sweden, the more frustrating I find it — the focus to limit yourself.”
Orange thinks the popularity of trends like hygge and lagom in places like the U.S. and U.K. suggests that something is not right in those countries.
“It comes from a dissatisfaction with the way they’re living and [they] think the others have the answers,” Orange said. Sweden, he added, doesn’t have all the answers and has problems too.
Swedish trend hunter and analyst Stefan Nilsson, a.k.a. “Trend Stefan,” said the best approach is to take what you like from concepts like lagom and leave the rest.
“Scandinavian countries have long embraced equality, family and the importance of a work-life balance,” Nilsson said. “You should take the good things of a lifestyle like this and incorporate them in your own life.”