I just turned the heating on full blast in our living room. It’s official, winter is here. Well, it isn’t officially here until next Monday but it sure feels like it’s here, now. It’s time to bust out those window lights and special candles, baking the pepparkakor and brewing that glögg. I’m channeling lagom as we slide into our second Swedish winter. I’ve been on a steep learning curve in the last few months, divining the art of lagom from my day to day life experiences of living in Sweden. It’s a tough ideology to live by, especially when you come from a culture of mass consumerism and “bigger is better”.
The Swedish dogma of lagom is experiencing a period of resurgence in social media, branding and marketing. The concept of “just being” is at the heart of lagom. I promise, I won’t be giving you some sort of etymological lesson on the origin or evolution of lagom. It’s more valuable to understand the experiences one has on a day to day basis that are lagom…rather than coming up with the 1,000th bad translation. Nevertheless, my favourite definition of lagom is, “neither being excessive nor sparse but looking/feeling/being at the perfect equilibrium right in between,” from Lexiophiles.com. Lagom shouldn’t be confused with “Jantelagen” or The Law of Jante. In Scandinavia, Jantelagen is the collective criticism or negativity towards individuals who appear successful or who experience achievements. Lagom is the more generous ideology of Jantelagen which encourages to live in the moment, just enough, just right.
good or GOOD
My first experience of the lagom happened at work. I’d been carrying out market research for a small museum in Småland about a touring exhibition they were planning. The report was finished and I was really into how well I had done. I was pumped, they were going to be pumped. With the report sent off I eagerly awaited a response… “O.K”. That was it, the response I got was, “it’s O.K.” Queue neurotic breakdown and mental headbutting as I tried to figure out what THAT meant?! Was it “O.K, but it could have been better”, was it “O.K” *shoulder shrug*. This response was NOT a positive response in my book. It was a mediocre, “not good” response. It meant,”ok, but could be better.” ARGH. But, as I later found out, it meant “good”. On this occassion, it meant “great!” As I had hoped they were delighted by the outcome and content of the report, much to my confusion. There it was, my first lagom experience. In my employers eyes there was no need to over embellish or heap on the praise. The report that I had completed was “just right”, “good” and “ok”. It’s been months since that experience and I still haven’t quite got my head round the change in perspective and expectations of lagom.
lagom for life
Most people first consciously experience lagom in the workplace. I’ve had a number of friends who have shared the same “What the hell does that mean…” thought process. Most of us expats or immigrants come from a culture of over-praise, congratulations and promotion. Cultures where working all the hours your god sends is seen as a work ethic or making money and doing business is more important than your family. Lagom in Sweden is if you end up working past 5pm it’s indicative of bad planning and poor time keeping. Family is put first and having just enough is enough. The feeling of “just right” doesn’t only sit within the work space of life. It radiates throughout. At our first parent/teacher conference, two weeks ago, the only adjective used was “fine”, “she’s just fine”. I wanted, “she’s the happiest in the class”, “she’s a genius”, “we love her”. My other half (who is Swedish) was comforted, I wanted more than that. My imbedded need for acknowledgement and praise wasn’t satisfied. So, for the good of my kid’s self-worth I’m leaning in to lagom.
These last 20 months of living in Sweden have forced my neurosis and anxiety into check. It’s taken 20 MONTHS. But, it’s made me re-evaluate my expectations of other people and relearn self-worth and self-confidence. No longer needing heaped praise lacking in integrity. Although, perhaps, it might just be that I’ve been so busy keeping my head above water I haven’t had time to worry about what other people think…