There are two kinds of people – those who believe ‘more is better’ and those for whom ‘less is more’.
For some people, if one pudding is a good thing then ‘double-puds’ obviously results twice in the pleasure! For others, just the one crème brûlée, is the pathway to optimal dessert-delight.
If you find yourself in the latter camp then you might be Swedish!
Yes, there’s a new Nordic lifestyle trend on the scene. Following hot on the heels of last year’s Danish contribution – hygge – we have lagom. Both attest to a bracing Scandinavian culture that favours simplicity and balance and both resist attempts to find straightforward equivalents in English. However they are different in crucial ways.
Whereas hygge is something of a transitory concept – an add-on if you like – something brought in to your life during a short break or something worked into each day, lagom is a concept that underpins life as a whole. Lagom is like a pet dog in this respect, not just for Christmas but for life!
Secondly, it’s easy to say! While hygge’s impenetrable cluster of consonants proved baffling to some English speakers, lagom is a pronunciation doddle. Simply take the ‘lar’ from ‘large’ and add to it a ‘gom’ that rhymes with ‘Tom’ and you’ve got it cracked.
So what is lagom? In living a ‘lagom lifestyle’ the concept of just enough is valued – not too little, not too much, and so the excesses of consumerism are eschewed along with their close cousins – greed and ostentation.
Other English words that come close to expressing the idea are: ‘in moderation, ‘in balance’, and ‘suitable’. There is also the positive connotation of ‘appropriateness’ but crucially without the negative ones ‘abstinence’, ‘scarcity’ and ‘blandness’. Possibly the best summation is provided by the Swedish proverb ‘Lagom är bäst’ – ‘the right amount is best’.
The benefits of lagom, both to the individual and the planet, are clear. We are living in a world that often presents a challenging cocktail of contradictions and extremes – so something that points in the direction of a more balanced, happier, less wasteful way of life is very appealing.
Lagom and sustainability go hand in hand – consider the problem of food waste. Every year households in the UK throw away around £13 billion worth of perfectly edible food. Now imagine if shoppers adopted an attitude of ‘not too much, not little, just right’ – it’s easy to see how the baleful enormity of this mountain of wastefulness could be reduced to a molehill of moderation!
This kind of mind-set can even help people to save money. Something as simple as filling the kettle can become and an exercise in ‘just right’. Try getting in to the habit of filling the kettle to what we could call the ‘lagom level’, now extend this to every aspect of your life and you’ll soon be reaping the monetary rewards.
A lagom lifestyle is healthier too. Amongst the biggest causes of ill-health, in the west are those caused by over-consumption. It’s plain to see how the maxim ‘just the right amount’ applied to eating and drinking habits would have profound health benefits. Equally the psychological problems associated with a poor work-life balance – stress and insomnia – would be greatly alleviated by the harmoniousness engendered by a lagom mind-set.
Lagom even informs the world of design – a beautiful, stylish simplicity comes to mind when we think of Scandinavian creations. This is a visual language seeped in the watchwords – ‘harmony’, ‘balance’, ‘simplicity’ and ‘stylishness’.
So does ‘living lagom’ mean an end to the occasional treat – saying goodbye to a spot of pampering every now and then? Absolutely not, as totally depriving yourself of these pleasures wouldn’t conform to the ‘not too little’ part of the equation. In fact lagom applies to everything – just the right the amount – even to lagom itself!