Happiness 101: What we can learn from the Swedes
Lagom. How do you even pronounce that? Laagom, laggomm, lagoom… And what is it, anyway? A kind of pudding? The latest meditation trend? Or just the name of a piece of Ikea furniture? Wrong, for the most part – but Sweden is the right direction to be looking in.
Lagom – pronounced “logum” – is what you could call the Swedish formula for happiness. It can’t be precisely translated, just felt, but it means something like “just right”. Not too much, not too little. Happiness requires balance, and that is an art which the Swedish have mastered. They are, after all, among the happiest people on Earth.
Lagom can be applied to every aspect of life: body care, food, work. Everything in moderation – that’s how you achieve inner balance. Read on for a crash course in channelling the Swedish lifestyle. We guarantee that it will be easier to understand than the assembly instructions for most Swedish furniture.
Whatever you do, do it outdoors
Feel the sunshine on your skin, the rain in your face or the snow inside your boots. People in Sweden spend most of their free time outdoors. That’s where they get a chance to look inwards and reconnect with themselves. At the same time, the landscapes here give you an unparalleled sense of freedom. The weather makes no difference, either, as Swedes don’t let a bit of rain kill the mood. When the sun does come out from behind the clouds, it’s wonderful: Thanks to the long, dark winter days, they truly appreciate the sunlight. And where better to be close to nature than in the traditional summer houses we all know from movies and magazines, which speckle the Swedish countryside with a beautiful array of colors?
The connection to nature is deeply engrained in the people of Sweden. Lakes and forests are an integral part of their daily lives, just as indissociable from one another as Pippi Longstocking and Astrid Lindgren, or flower wreaths and the “midsommar” celebrations. Even in large cities like Stockholm, enclaves of greenery are easy to find. The Swedes see themselves as guests in nature, and nature as a place for everyone: In line with the Swedish “Allemansrätt”, hiking, camping and mushroom hunting is allowed everywhere throughout the country, making it the ideal place to find your inner outdoorsman.
Exercise does it
Ice skating, fishing, kayaking… it’s time to work out! Come rain or shine. Swedish people’s love of exercise is unshakable: Not for nothing does the country top the ranking of the world’s most athletic countries. If you keep an eye out, you can see them going about their sports activities outside all day long. It gets even better when they use their outdoor exercise session to do good at the same time: Plogging, a combination of “plocka” (Swedish for “collecting”) and “jogging”, involves picking up the trash you find on your running path to help protect the environment.
Eat in Swedish style
When you exercise a lot, you also need to eat properly. Sweden definitely has a lot more to offer in that department than just meatballs. Its food culture is based on high-quality ingredients, seasonal and local produce, healthy preparation methods and crooked vegetables. The Swedes’ respect for nature is particularly evident in the way they treat their food. They also know how to enjoy it at its best – and they do it without excluding anyone. More and more Michelin-starred chefs are opening so-called “bakfickors” in Stockholm and other cities. They are small bistros that make five-star cuisine accessible to everyone at reasonable prices. That qualifies as lagom, too.
Take a non-negotiable break
Anyone can go on a coffee break. Swedish “fika” takes the concept further: It properly celebrates the pleasure of coffee and a time out. It can take the form of me-time or we-time, just as long as the coffee (or other hot beverage of choice) is pleasantly warm and the “kanelbullar” – the delicious Swedish cinnamon rolls with a hint of cardamom and glossy sugar crystals – are wonderfully fresh.
Sweden’s coffee break is about taking a moment to come down and take a breath – several times a day if necessary. It’s perfectly work-appropriate, too: In many Swedish offices, business stops for a few minutes at regular intervals throughout the day. Fika time! It’s a chance to take a break with your colleagues before going back to your desk. The word “fika”, by the way, dates back to the 19th century, when the Swedes had some fun with reshuffling their vocabulary. That’s how “kaffi” suddenly turned into fika.
Appreciate and enjoy “mysig”
If there is one activity that cold and dark winter days are perfect for, it’s huddling up by the fireplace with some hot chocolate and kanelbullar to listen to the crackling of the flames. This image will give most people a longing for indoor indulgence on a chilly autumn day, but Swedish people really know how to cultivate this comfort (or “mysig”) like nobody else. It doesn’t even have to be cold: Even on long summer nights or warm spring evenings, you can be comfortable anywhere as long as you feel at home.
Working is also about finding an equilibrium: The six-hour workday is being tried out at an increasing number of companies in an effort to achieve the ideal work-life balance. The number of sick days is decreasing and satisfaction rates are rising as a result. Plus: If by the time you’ve used up all of your paid vacation time, you still feel like the end of the year is ages away, that’s fine too. In Sweden, taking unpaid leave is very common and considered completely normal. It doesn’t matter whether you take it to pick up your children from kindergarten or to head off on a long weekend. At the same time, however, Swedish people don’t mind working longer hours once in a while when they have important deadlines looming. These are the ideal conditions for individual, creative and innovative ways of working to flourish. The success of many Swedish companies speaks for itself: Spotify, Soundcloud and Skype are just a few examples of innovations brought to us by our northern neighbors. They have grown into global brands that we can no longer imagine living without.
As you can see, there is a lot you can learn from the Swedes to bring a bit more balance into your life. Some exercise – preferably outdoors, of course – the odd cinnamon roll and the most important thing of all: enjoyment. That’s all you need for a lagom lifestyle.