Lagom: the Swedish word for ‘just right’


The Swedish word ‘lagom’ says concisely what, in English, is quite a mouthful: not too much, not too little, but just right. Journalist Annemiek Leclaire looks at what we can learn from this Swedish sentiment.

Because Scandinavian countries always score so high in the world’s happiness ranking, people the world over—from South Korea to Brazil—are interested in what’s making the Northern Europeans’ lives so good. Following the popularity of the Danish concept of hygge (loosely translated as ‘coziness’), it’s now the turn of the quintessentially Swedish lagom. In her book, The Lagom Life: A Swedish Way of Living, UK-based Swedish author Elisabeth Carlsson defines the lagom lifestyle as never depriving ourselves but not overindulging, and avoiding waste.

She writes about how the lagom approach to life of not too much and not too little leads to contentment; it gives you a life in which you have time to do the things you love most, things that add value. These are often small, everyday things like taking time out to have coffee with a friend, cooking a nice meal for your family, getting out into nature, or whatever you choose to do to feel calm and in equilibrium.

Carlsson herself keeps her life in balance with simple pleasures like fika (Swedish coffee breaks), growing her own vegetables and burning candles that her mother has made. How can non-Swedes learn to apply this principle? “I find it hard to explain,” she admits. “I grew up with it, it is so intertwined with everything I do that I am still figuring out how to teach it to others. The main principle behind it is getting rid of what you have too much of in your life. Stripping the excess. Learning to say ‘no’ until you reach that moment of lagom; then you feel content, and you know that it’s enough.”

  • You can read more about ‘lagom’ in Issue 23.

Text Annemiek Leclaire Illustration Deborah van der Schaaf