Lagom: How Scandinavians find Balance

Annually CNN announces the world’s happiest countries. This year, 3 of the top 5 happened to be in Scandinavia, again. What is the secret behind the countries with some of the longest winters and shortest summers to still remain the happiest year after year?

To Scandinavians, the secret is a little thing called lagom, which is naturally apart of life. A Swedish term, lagom (Laaw-gohm) roughly means, “just the right amount.” There is no actual direct English translation of this word, ironically because I don’t think it exists in our vocabulary. Basically, it’s all about moderation, balance, adequate and just right. Which, for some reason, is the exact opposite belief I’ve held my entire life. I have always wanted more, I have not wanted to be adequate, and I have wanted to be better.

Lagom Scandinavian Work-Life Balance

Unfortunately, now living in Scandinavia, lagom is still not an active part of my life. After finally getting my residency, I’ve been in a rat race to get an apartment, secure work (internship and part-time job), start language classes, and just feel settled. The song I’ve been singing has been to the tune of “why is it taking so long?” This has only resulted in me battling labeling myself a failure multiple times. While I am grateful that things have finally started to flood into my life, I am now finding myself completely out of balance, always on the go. I am still missing the point of lagom.

If work-life or just life balance seems like a foreign concept to you, Martin Bjergegaard shares how to find this balance in his book, aptly titled, Winning without Losing. Still seem unrealistic? Imagine never feeling as if a decision you made would mean you were missing out on something else. Imagine being perfectly content with the way things are right now. Contentment and balance, in general, sounds idealistic and, as an American, it sounds slightly like a waste of time.

american dream culture

The American Dream is an ideal that can include success at work, having lots of friends, entertaining, and looking good doing all of it.

In the States, we have had a widely held belief called the American Dream. It is a set of ideals in which freedom includes opportunity for prosperity and that success can be achieved through hard work. Life in essence, can be better, richer and fuller – regardless of social class or circumstances at birth. There has never been a mention of balance because many are often spread thin trying to achieve it all. Thus, by doing whatever it takes (with the exception of breaking laws), everyone can get what they want. Recognition and achievement is what makes one successful as an American. Contrastingly to Scandinavia, this sort of mindset has often cast one as an outsider.

However, these high aspirations of the so-called American Dream can also mean that nothing is ever good enough. It isn’t to say Americans are unhappy. In the States, we are known for some pretty cool things, places and people. Yet, I’ve always felt people were either wanting or obligated to needing more. Many are always waiting for payday, for a better job, to pay off their credit cards, students loans, or just retire. At 17, we are asked to decide what we want to do for a career and then asked to dish out the funds to pay for an education. So, while I have often wondered if it was possible to have it all and live a balanced life, I can see that many seem to have it quite simply here in Sweden.

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I do not mean to say that Sweden, Denmark or Norway have figured it all out with their balance and lagom. They have long winters, issues with immigration, and other social problems. But on a whole, you could say they are happier. Life is good and people seem content. I have yet to meet a Swede who wants to stand out from their peers. People would rather just blend and I’m realizing it might not be such a bad thing. Scandinavians know when and how to take vacation. Many seem to know to leave their work at work, and they for sure know how to spend time with their families and friends. Of course, I say all of this working from the comfort of my home, at 7 in the evening. So, perhaps I have not found my lagom yet, but I am thinking with my stint at Pine Tribe in conjunction with my daily experience in Sweden, I will soon learn what it means to be Scandinavian.

Be sure to check out Winning Without Losing to find ways in which you can actually find a work-life balance, which will lead you to greater happiness and contentment in general. It doesn’t just have to be a pipe dream, it can be a reality.

Images from  here and here.


Tiffany Lee
13 Jun 2014

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