Lagom – or the magic of just enough

A Swedish word, although a concept that is shared across Scandinavia, it means not too much, not too little – just right. The wags amongst us would probably christen it the Goldilocks concept, but it’s not about trying everything till you find the one that suits you, it’s … well, I’ll hand you over to chef and author Bronte Aurell who runs the Scandinavian Kitchen in London’s Fitzrovia with her husband Jonas …

“Lagom is the median, the middle, the appropriate. Back in the Viking days, mead would be passed around … and everyone would take their sips. There is something for everyone, if everyone just takes a lagom amount from the mead when it comes around. Crucially, the foundation of lagom is contentment, a sense that things are sufficient just as they are. There’s a Swedish proverb “Lagom är bäst” which literally means “The right amount is best” but is also translated as “Enough is as good as a feast” and “There is virtue in moderation”.”

But it’s not about self-deprivation especially, another commentator offered the following description “When you spend £300 on a Danish design chair you expect it to last at least 25 years.” Remember when those who could afford to bought things for life? Something hand crafted in good quality materials, worn or used for life, mended and repaired as needed? Of course the poorer in society had to make do with cheap equivalents which wouldn’t last, no matter how well cared for. But, somewhere along the line, more of us chose the cheap equivalents, content to discard when worn out or when boredom thresholds were reached.

First world Society – outside of Scandinavia presumably – seems skewed to the acquisition of material things, for how many of us make an active choice to limit what we have to what we need? Houses – sizes and locations, cars – age and potential for speed, clothes – newness and trendiness, these have all become factors in how we’re perceived in terms of our success and worth. Yet we rarely give value to kindness, to treading lightly upon the earth. Those who perform services within their local community are dubbed “do-gooders” in a faintly scornful manner, rather than given society’s grateful thanks or being held in esteem.

But surely success doesn’t have to be loud and brash, or have to involve big, new, flash and shiny? Why can’t it be about having enough, being satisfied with enough, giving value to enough? Why doesn’t it involve doing more for others – either friends or strangers, building memories with those you love, acquiring experiences rather than more stuff? Surely it could involve more kindness, more compassion, more respect?

Imagine a world where therapists don’t have to spend a vast amount of time convincing their clients they’re good enough. If we didn’t have this acquisitive society, where we measured ourselves and others by those false values, we might become more content, more willing to believe in good enough. Yes, I’m a cock-eyed optimist, an idealist and bleedin’ heart liberal, but am I wrong to firmly believe that society needs to re-think how it lives and to what it gives value?

© Debra Carey, 2018

5 thoughts on “Lagom – or the magic of just enough

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  1. I know this concept as a saying: “Shaker your plate.” It’s similar to lagom. It comes from the Shaker religious communities of the 1800s. Travelers would arrive at Shaker villages where they’d be given room and board. The saying meant eat what you need, but don’t overdo it. Funny, I hadn’t thought of that saying in decades.

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  2. ” am I wrong to firmly believe that society needs to re-think how it lives and to what it gives value?”

    In a word, no. This pushes some of my professional buttons as you might expect! 🙂 But even before that in our personal lives ‘sufficient’ was the watchword. At one time, yes,I did trade my car in every two years but that was because it was essential that I had a car that I could rely on at any time of day, night or year, and for the same reason for a while we were a two-car family. Since I retired however things have changed and so have we.

    I am convinced that much of the mental health problems today are caused by a false sense of inadequacy because of the need to acquire more and more and the loss of the ideas of ‘sharing’ and ‘sufficient’.

    Self-esteem should not depend on what bling I can amass.

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  3. I’d not heard that before – but then we don’t have Shaker communities here. I wonder how many other countries/communities have a similar saying. The more, the better I feel.

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  4. It’s taken me a long time to come to this realisation Alan, but I’m grateful it’s finally arrived. As a result, I know it’s a realisation individuals need to come to by themselves, hectoring & lecturing doesn’t work. But if a Scandinavian trend can work it’s magic, I’d be a happy bunny (and a surprised one in all honesty).

    I’m so glad you picked up my mental health remark, as I’m becoming increasingly worried about it. Not just those who compare themselves to others in terms of the stuff/lifestyle they have, but the drive to live up to the behaviour and achievements of others in the public eye, to the extent of feeling they’ve failed if they don’t reach some mythical pinnacle. In the coaching industry, I see a number who give me cause for concern as they are so hard on themselves. I think they’re doing great work, they only see that they’re not Tony Robbins or Gary Vee. It breaks my heart a little.


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