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The Art of Balance – Living Lagom

Living Lagom - The Art of Balance

For this special installment of our Scandinavianthemed month, we’re doing not one, not two, but THREE books on living lagom!

Living lagom is about finding balance in our lives. It’s about stopping when we’ve had enough (however we define “enough”). It’s about having just the right amount to be content. Whether it’s work-life balance, or balance with nature, or balance between solitude and community, lagom is about finding that balance for ourselves.

While lagom is about what’s the right balance for you, there are common tenets. After extensive research (reading three books on one topic for anything other than an academic paper is considered extensive these days!), I have narrowed down these tips for living lagom.

Health and Wellness

It’s very hard to exercise consistently. For me, it’s usually all or nothing; some months, I will be exercising every day for a month straight, whereas other times I can go a fiscal quarter without getting my heart rate up. The key to getting regular physical activity is to not think of it as exercise.

Instead of driving to the gym every day before or after work, we can incorporate movement into our daily lives. This requires conscious and intentional choices; it’s easy to revert to form. So we should start small. We can take the stairs instead of the elevator. We can walk to the store instead of hopping into our cars for the two-minute drive. And if it’s close enough (and safe to do so!), we can bike to work instead of driving or taking public transportation. The little things we do will add up.

It’s also important to take time for ourselves. Even extroverts who thrive on the energy of crowds can benefit from taking a few minutes a day to evaluate how they feel. It’s not necessarily about solitude; it’s about self-care. We know best what we need. It can be meditation, a trek through nature, a bubble bath, reading a novel – whatever it is we need to get back in touch with ourselves.

Quality vs. Quantity

In regards to quality vs quantity, lagom is heavily on the side of quality: in things we buy (clothing, furniture, food, etc.), in time we spend (with friends, family, ourselves), at work.

The highest quality we can afford adds more value to our lives and our possessions. Quality clothes make us feel more confident, because we know we look good. Home furnishings that last will give us many memories years to come. And quality food is much healthier for us.

When we spend time with others, it’s important to be present. Being in the same room on our phones is not quality time. Sometimes we don’t have the energy to deal with people, especially if we’ve been stuck with them for extended periods of time, and that’s ok. But we should make the effort to give the people we love our complete focus when we’re with them.

At work, there might be a lot of busy work that doesn’t help us advance our career. These tasks might take time away from important work and force us to do overtime. We should aim to work more efficiently and productively; get what needs to be done done so we can leave on time. We should work more creatively; if something isn’t working, we should think of different approaches, even if “this is how it’s always been done” (we’ve all heard this before). We should also work more collaboratively; sometimes two heads are better than one, and sometimes, we just need help with the workload.

Environmentally-conscious

Spending time in nature, whether it’s an afternoon at a park, or a week backpacking through Yosemite, balances out the daily grind. It helps us recharge from all the demands of modern-day life. It’s important to respect nature. “Leave No Trace” is a philosophy of hikers, climbers, and other nature enthusiasts. The idea is to leave everything exactly as we found it: don’t walk off the trail and trample the foliage, don’t drop trash on the top of the mountain, don’t tear out plants from the ground.

We only have one planet. No matter what anyone says about colonizing Mars, we’ve all seen pictures of Mars – do we really want to live there?? So we must take care of our one planet. This means we have to live as sustainably as we can: reducing food waste, composting, buying less plastic, recycling, mending/upcycling, saving energy, conscious purchases.

Community

We’ve talked about the importance of community. To build community, we should help people in need. It could be something big, like helping the homeless transition back into society, or something small, like sharing our umbrella with someone caught in a downpour. Community is about connecting with people. Listening when someone talks. Meeting someone in person, and disconnecting from our devices while we’re with them. Being honest and saying what we mean, instead of beating around the bush.

The Swedish have something called fika, which is a culmination of all these ideas. Fika is a coffee break (though it doesn’t have to be coffee!). It’s taking a few minutes out of our day to enjoy a drink and a snack, to catch up with how other people are doing, to recharge our brains from solving problems all day. Quality time spent with others or ourselves, to strengthen those relationships.

Thoughts

Lagom is not all positive; it’s been blamed for suppressing individuality and ambition. In Old Swedish, “laguhm” means “according to the law.” It’s a social construct that aims to create a just and equal society. But focusing on equality at the expense of everything else is also harmful to society. In this extreme sense, lagom is reminiscent of communism. (If you are interested in learning more, Live Lagom by Anna Brones covers the darker aspects of lagom.)

As with everything in life, it’s important to find the positive aspects to apply to our lives, while being aware of the negative. I enjoyed reading all three books on lagom, it gave me a good sense of living lagom, from three different perspectives. If you only read one, I would suggest Niki Brantmark’s for a lighter read, or Anna Brones’ for a bit more history.

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Do you feel like you have balance in your life? Which aspects do you want to work on to get more balance?

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