Understanding Sweden’s slogan.
Lagom can be described as “not too much, not too little”, or the perfect harmony of balance. The funny thing about lagom is that you rarely hear the word when speaking English with a Swede. And that is probably because the word doesn’t have a one-for-one translation into English. But if you don’t speak Swedish, don’t be fooled by the lack of hearing it – Lagom is everywhere.
Lagom is said to come from the Viking term laget om (or, around the team) to describe the horn of mead that was shared by the Vikings back in the day. During those moments it was important that everyone had not too much nor too little, but just the right amount of mead so all could have their fair share. Over time, the phrase was shortened from laget om to simply lagom. My research has also told me that lagom comes from laghum, or “according to law”. Either way, the idea remains the same – according to the law of lagom, everyone should have their fair share.
But don’t think about lagom as just being applicable to sharing mead. Lagom can be applied to anything – food, exercise, home decor, clothing, work-life balance, you name it!
For Swedes, lagom around the home is the perfect balance between form and function, and between inexpensive and expensive. Go into any Swedish home and you’ll find both IKEA’s Billy bookcase (~$50) and Georg Jensen’s Cobra candle sticks (~$200). That is lagom.
Lagom is also exercising and eating healthily during weeknights, but spending the weekend munching on tacos for a Fredagsmys (a Friday cozy) and stuffing yourself with Saturday candies (lördagsgodis).
My favorite application of lagom is the work-life balance you’ll find in Sweden. According to the Annual Leave Act (Semesterlagen), you are entitled to a minimum of 25 days of vacation (but many people, like myself, get 30 days) and you can take up to four consecutive weeks off in July! Working hard but having at least two long vacation breaks a year (during Christmas and the summer)? Now that is lagom living at its best.
Is this all starting to sound familiar? Perhaps this reminds you of a certain fairytale of a little blonde girl that wants her porridge and her bed to be “just right”? Ah, Goldilocks and the Three Bears! So, if you ever find yourself uncertain of what lagom is, just ask yourself, “What would Goldilocks do?”
And on a final note, it is important to understand that lagom is different for everyone. What is “just right” for me will differ from what is “just right” for you. And that is exactly how it should be.
- On the Lund University campus just outside the Psychology Department, you can find a statue with the precise volume measurement of lagom (lgm). This international unit of measurement (internationella måttenheten) was created in 1992 by the Uarda akademien (Uarda academy).
- Interestingly, the most lagom fairytale ever was not written by a Swede (nor Denmark’s Hans Christian Andersen) but by British author Robert Southey in 1837.
- You’ve just ordered a filtered coffee (bryggkaffe) and the barista has asked you how much milk you want in it. No need to panic. Just reply with lagom and you’ll get the perfect amount of milk…at least according to that barista!
- Want to know more about lagom? There is an entire book on the concept by author Linnea Dunne.
Hope you learned some new Swedishness today and I’ll see you in the next post!