I’ve never been much for a self-help book and haven’t been able to get through a single one until I found Lagom; The Swedish Art of Living a Balanced, Happy Life, by Niki Brantmark. I was hooked. I’m obsessed with all things Swedish. After attending college in the very Swedish town of Lindsborg, Kansas, I’ve worked with Swedish Author Jan Arnald, and also met Pia Sundhage, coach of the women’s Swedish National Soccer Team. I’m intimately familiar with knäckebröd bread and Swedish meatballs, and have spent many a Christmas avoiding the Lutefisk and pickled herring that gets passed around.
Lagom is one of those words that doesn’t exactly translate to any one English word.
Loosely translated, Lagom means everything in moderation, not too little, not too much; just right.
Lagom is an overarching concept in Sweden, woven into the very fabric of their culture. In her book, Brantmark divides her thoughts into; Lagom in Your Personal Life, Lagom in Family and Relationship, and Lagom in the Wider World. While I would love to pick apart every page and discuss, I’ll cover my favourite bits.
Lagom In Your Personal Life
Brantmark implores us to begin our Lagom journey at home. She argues that home should be a source of happiness and relaxation, not stress. The first way to achieve this happiness is to declutter. Swedes live minimalist lives, only keeping what they need, and following a set of rules to make sure they never wake up to a house full of useless knick-knacks, or what I have… a junk drawer. At the end of each section Brantmark spends a couple of pages on how to apply the advice she just gave you. For example, in discussing a minimalist life style, she gives tips and trick on how to declutter without being overwhelmed. My favourite of the tips is the ‘one in, one out’ rule.
For everything you buy, discard another. It’s a great way to stay clutter free!
In addition to being simple dwellers, Swedes are undoubtedly close to nature. From searching for mushrooms in the forest and taking morning dips in the cold water, to putting a small potted plant on their desk at work and taking walks at lunch time, the Swedes make a conscious effort to connect with the earth. Brantmark talks about the importance of natural light and how we use it. Sweden is a Nordic country in all senses of the word. There’s lots of sun in the summer, and lots of darkness in the winter. Swedes use their geographic location to their advantage; summer cottages are filled with undisturbed windows so the sun can reach every corner of the house. The book also explores how to cope with the long, dark winters as well. Candle light is the hallmark of a Swedish home. Brantmark says that a few candles can give any room the warm, cosy glow it needs.
Cleanliness is paramount in any Swedish home. One pleasant surprise I found in Lagom is the Swedish affinity for rugs over carpet. Brantmark points out that wall to wall carpeting holds all sorts of dirt and bacteria brought in from the outside world. Rugs, however can be picked up, shaken out, tossed in the wash, hosed down, etc.
Lagom In Family And Relationships
Enjoying the Swedish lifestyle without friends and family is just not the Swedish way. So, of course Brantmark has a Lagom guide to life with our loved ones. One of the most admirable Swedish traits is the respect they have for other peoples space. The book discusses the genuine effort it takes to build a friendship. Honesty, patience, and punctuality are the fundamentals of a good friendship. Brantmark points out the painfully obvious; that in the long run we value the friends who told us what we didn’t want to hear, listened patiently to all our problems and strangely enough, show up on time to do so. In the age of fast paced living and busy schedules, punctuality has become less of a concern as we now have the technology to notify people when we’re running late. Punctuality however, is a sign of respect. Respect for the person you’re meeting and respect for their time. Additionally, it shows that you’re trustworthy, and, you guessed it… respectable.
The part of the book I most connected with was The Art of Fika.
“Fika is a sacred Swedish social ritual meaning ‘taking a break for coffee and enjoying a small treat’. It’s a moment to relax and umgås – ‘hang out together’ – and catch up with family and friends away from the stress and strains of everyday life.” (Page 127)
It’s so simple. Enjoy Fika at a coffee shop, at home, in the break room, on the beach etc. If I may insert a personal anecdote; my past few trips up to Chicago, my girlfriends and I have taken to a tradition of walking from Corinne’s apartment to Stan’s Doughnuts on the corner to grab a coffee and an old-fashioned doughnut, and then we head for the lake. These mornings have become some of my favourite moments in all our years of friendship.
While Fika was my favourite part of the book, the section I learned the most from was the one on marriage. Brantmark sites many studies illustrating the intricacies of the typical Swedish home. The common thread in a good and successful marriage is balance. Balance in love, balance in chores, and in finances. The Lagom life encourages couples to split chores up based on who enjoys what.
For example, if one person enjoys gardening and doing the dishes and the other enjoys managing the finances and house cleaning, then that’s how the chores are split. Traditional gender roles need not apply. The Swedish home is saturated with equality.
First comes love, then comes marriage. The Swedish wedding is simple, and often outside in the summer sun. While a great big wedding is beautiful, Brantmark offers a more minimalist approach to the special day. Arguably one of the most important and stressful jobs a couple can choose to take on is the never-ending joy of raising children. The Lagom parent, is a deliberate parent. Brantmark talks about how children crave our attention before they crave toys.
Lagom In The Wider World
It would be selfish to keep this feel-good attitude towards life all to oneself. If we all do our part in the community to make it the best we can, then we’re serving other and future generations, making Lagom smart and sustainable. Volunteering at the local soup kitchen, signing up to coach your daughter’s sports team, finding a local charity to donate to each Christmas; all are ways to bring the unadulterated kindness of Lagom to the greater world.
The last 1/5 of the book is dedicated to the Lagom way of reducing our carbon footprint. From recycling, to airdrying laundry, to veganism, Brantmark lists all the tiny ways we can keep our Earth just a little bit happier. This last section of the book really brought the whole Lagom mindset together. The entire goal for this concept is to live simply and deliberately. Swedes revel in the small moments with nature and loved ones because they take such care in preserving those relationships.
This book opened my eyes to quite a bit. Typically, I see time as money. I try to work quickly and diligently in order to move up in my field and each time I achieve something, I look at the next rung on the ladder. This Lagom approach to life encourages us to slow down and reevaluate our definitions of success, happiness, and wealth. My aim is to see success as better personal relationships, to define happiness as better self-care, and to strive for wealth in the form of connecting with nature deliberately. It’s so easy to get lost inside your own life. As a millennial, all I think about is money and savings and what industry we’re all ruining. Lagom was a gentle reminder that my life should be lived by and for me, and not those I’m trying to impress. Kick start your 2018 with this simple lesson in living.