Beyond their practicality, learning languages gives insight into the ingrained beliefs of different cultures that are worth borrowing from time-to-time, or at least knowing about. In Brazil, they have saudades; a word that means many things, like the deep sense of longing and wistfulness for something you once had. In Spanish there’s duende, used frequently in Flamenco dancing to describe certain moments where god visits the dancer as they transcend worldly capabilities. Then of course, the word hygge (pronounced hoo-geh) which describes a lot of things; from cosy moments and enjoying life’s simple pleasures.
Two of my favourite Swedish words are lagom and fika. Let’s have a look at what they mean and how they can be adopted for a better life.
[ˈlɑ̀ːɡɔm] – adverb
Not too little, not too much. Just right.
The core of the word lagom is contentment. To be content with the way things are is to put down the pursuit of constantly chasing more — as we do in the west — and instead chase just the right amount. The idea that “enough is as good as a feast” emphasises the virtue in practicing moderation, which is something that western culture practices very little of. Anna Hart writes of the Brits; “We opt for the feast/famine rollercoaster of the 5:2 diet over slow-and-steady sensible eating, — and we’ll take pride in pushing ourselves to breaking point in the office, so that we can spend our entire weekend in the pub moaning about how busy we are.”
The perfect antidote to a society that gives us instant access to anything and everything, lagom is a reminder that contentment comes not from having things, but of cultivating an internal state of contentedness with the way things are. Phychologist, Dr Jessamy Hibbert describes it as a “break from the business of constantly checking our phone, driving forward and being 'on’.”
Here are 2 ways to apply the idea of lagom into everyday life:
Switch from valuing what’s best for the individual, to valuing what’s best for your community:
It might look like donating to a charity once a month, reducing the amount of plastic you use and thinking more about the environment. In my own life, I’ve noticed a feeling of greater purpose result of trying to think more for the community around me. So far I’ve donated a lot more frequently to charities and put more of a focus on showing kindness and consideration to the people around me. A few ways I’d like to continue growing this mindset is through volunteering. Swedes have some of the highest taxes in the world, which speaks of their focus as a collective, ‘shared pot.’ This mentality led Scandinavia to be one of the happiest regions in the world despite bitter cold temperatures in the winter. Maintaining a broad middle class is valued over extremes of wealth. They have generous parental leave, quality medical care and systems that keep the community healthy as a whole, instead of only looking after a small wealthy minority. The benefits of adopting this world view in day-to-day life is a less egotistical outlook, which relieves stress through creating greater feelings of belonging, connection and building better relationships.
Buy less and look after what you have
In light of all the self-help material out there on minimalism and tidying up, ‘Swedish death cleaning’ has emerged to poke fun at the craze, as well as add another layer of motivation to de-cluttering our lives. The incentive of Swedish death cleaning, is to consider the burden we might have on our loved ones if we pass away and leave them with a pile of endless belongings. It’s obvious to see lagom practiced in so many facets of Swedish culture, whether it’s through their minimalistic home design, or their sustainable and community oriented politics.
Even reluctant Swedes can see the value of this mentality. “Maybe I’ve been fighting not to be lagom my whole life like a unruly teenager revolting,” says Swedish producer Johan Hugo “but I have grown up to realize lagom is very important part of a sane walk through life.”
You’ll seldom find a Swede dressed in gaudy attire with a cluttered space. We can adopt the benefits of this Swedish way of life in every facet of life. From decluttering our wardrobe, buying less and buying quality; the focus changes from constantly needing to earn and consume, to enjoying life’s simple pleasures; like time with loved ones, being in nature, or creating. These are better ways to your time that lead to greater wellbeing than living in extremes.
Is a concept in Swedish culture with the basic meaning "to have coffee," often accompanied with pastries, cookies or pie.
It may seem indulgent at first glance, but Fika is more than a term for coffee and cake. Fika is another manifestation of the Swedish attitude of moderation and a peaceful revolt against overworking. It is also a time to connect; as the country’s largest export Ikea describes on their website, “More than a coffee break, fika is a time to share, connect and relax with colleagues. Some of the best ideas and decisions happen at fika.”
I first heard of Fika when I went to a café in London named after the custom and ever since then, I’ve used it as a kind of slang to remind myself to slow down and these simple moments in my own life. As someone that’s self-employed, my own culture would make me feel guilty for taking a break. But since learning of Fika a few years ago, Sweden validated my full and uninhibited enjoyment of taking a break to spend time with friends and drink coffee.