Want to Feel More Balanced? Embrace the Swedish 'Lagom' Lifestyle
I love staying busy...up to a certain point.
When things are in harmony, I’m working, seeing friends, exercising, with each activity fueling the next.
When things are out of whack? I’m a stressed mess, trying to fit it all in without losing myself.
“We're living in a time when we're told we really can have it all—a career, children, time with friends, personal time, travel—which is wonderful. But it can also feel pretty intense,” author Niki Brantmark tells Shine.
The Swedish term Lagom, which roughly translates to “in moderation” or “in balance," has caught on outside of Scandinavia in part due to Brantmark’s 2017 book, Lagom: Not Too Little, Not Too Much: The Swedish Art of Living a Balanced, Happy Life.
“By taking your foot off the pedal and taking the time to do things in a more fuss-free way, you can enjoy everything in moderation and feel less pressure,” Brantmark says.
Brantmark discovered the term after moving from London to Sweden 16 years ago.
Immediately after the move, she noticed she was operating at a faster pace than everyone around her. “I was walking twice the pace of everyone on the street and never had time for a lunch break," she says. "I constantly felt there were never enough hours in the day.”
As she acclimated, she noticed that her fellow Swedes seemed to operate on another frequency. “(They were) leisurely cycling along the road to carry out errands, enjoying numerous coffee breaks and a lunch break at work, inviting friends over for a 'knytkalas' (where everyone contributes to the evening in some way) and yet they were more efficient than I was, without the stress,” she realized.
Since then, she's adapted the principle to her own life and hopes to help others do the same. “Of course, we can't all become Swedes overnight," she says. "But by experimenting with lagom and making subtle changes to your routine, I've found you can bring a sense of equilibrium to your life.”
Unlike, say, the Marie Kondo method, embracing lagom doesn’t require a major overhaul or getting rid of your hard-earned positions. It’s just a matter of looking at things differently, determining what’s worth your time and energy, and what you might put on the back burner.
For example: You might cut back on going to after-work happy hours and realize that spending nights in with a friend or two helps keep you both sane and social. Instead of working out daily, you might switch to every other day.
It's all about finding a balance and a pace that works for you—no fuss. Start by adapting these easy principles of lagom into your life.
Take regular work breaks
In Sweden, (most) office workers take guilt-free coffee breaks.
“Studies have shown that taking regular breaks can actually make you more efficient,” Brantmark says. “Think about... switching off for a breather every now and again. Not only will your body and soul thank you for it, you'll also have more energy when you return to the task.”
Hosting friends is essential to Swedish culture, and can help remind busy bees to connect with loved ones. Put a lagom spin on a friends’ night by ordering takeout rather than cooking, or throwing a wine party rather than meeting at a noisy bar.
“During busy periods, it can be easy to forgo the things in life that give you the most energy, such as spending time with friends,” Brantmark says. “Think 'less is more' and try to simplify activities. Not only will this take the pressure of you, but a more relaxed approach to entertaining will also take the pressure of your friends when they return the favour. And you'll be able to meet more often!”
A true win-win.
Give yourself time to get where you’re going
Fess up: When’s the last time you sent a “running 5 min late!” text? Innocent as it may seem, that constant lateness can take a serious emotional toll on you.
Bring your time back in balance by building a buffer. “Learning to give yourself the time to get somewhere on the dot will make a big difference to your state of mind,” Brantmark says. “Run late and you'll be rushing along, bumping into people and feeling stressed that any wrong turn will set you back even further. Leaving in good time will mean you can enjoy the journey at a leisurely pace, be kinder to those around you, and arrive feeling relaxed and ready to go.”
Go easy on yourself
Of course, a key part of lagom is being kind to yourself if things aren't always fuss-free.
Some days, you might get to work five minutes early, take a leisurely lunch-break stroll, and have a friend over for a Vanderpump Rules marathon. The next: You’re sprinting into the building and answering emails as you plow through a sad desk salad.
Accepting those fluctuations is central to finding that sweet lagom balance—as is forgiving yourself when things don’t go quite as intended.
As you seek your own equilibrium, you’ll find what works for you: Perhaps it’s carving out non-negotiable workout time in your weekly schedule, or turning off your phone’s email notifications.
Whatever you discover, embrace it—and thank the Swedes.
Read next: The Surprising Antidote to Busyness
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