Lagom Means “Everything in Moderation”

moose

This Swedish moose knows the exact meaning of “lagom.” Photo by: Maria Emitslöf/imagebank.sweden.se

 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a Swede use the word “lagom” and then tell me in reverent tones that there is no word that means the same thing in any other language. Hmmm…I don’t know…”Just the right amount” seems to get the job done but I guess what they mean is that it is just a single word in Swedish.

“Lagom” is the concept of taking the “middle way” with “everything in moderation.”

I read an interesting book called “Modern Day Vikings: A Practical Guide to Interacting with the Swedes” by Christina Johansson Robinowitz and Lisa Werner Carr (2001). In the book, the authors discuss the concept of lagom. They write that “Unlike in the United States, however, where moderation is most frequently applied to indulgences such as food or drink, lagom in Sweden applies to life in general: how much one eats, drinks, works, spends, owns. One should eat enough, but not too much; work hard, but not too hard: have enough, but not too much.”

Wikipedia  describes Lagom like this… “In a single word, lagom is said to describe the basis of the Swedish national psyche, one of consensus and equality. In recent times Sweden has developed greater tolerance for risk and failure as a result of severe recession in the early 1990s. Nonetheless, it is still widely considered ideal to be modest and avoid extremes”

“Modern Day Vikings” is about the cultural differences between Sweden and other countries, particularly the US. It talks a lot about the differences in business cultures, as well. The authors write that in Sweden the lagom concept is applied to life in general, including work. “Unlike in the United States, where the expression “everything in moderation” is typically applied to areas of hedonistic overindulgence (e.g., eating, drinking, smoking, sex), With the Swedes’ basic belief that “lagom is best,” potential is rife for misunderstandings among international colleagues. Swedes generally believe if you must work overtime then you probably didn’t plan correctly or had too much work to start with. It’s a negative to work late. because then you are sacrificing other parts of your life (family, leisure, etc.) Whereas in other business cultures, workers are applauded for working overtime and neglecting other parts of your life.

Lagom makes sense to the Swedes but can be chafing for Americans, raised in a culture where “too much is never enough. – Modern Day Vikings

For my part, I do see the practice of lagom in Sweden. From a work perspective, I appreciate that Sweden acknowledges that having a “whole” life is important and that being consumed by work is discouraged.

In my next post, I’ll write about “Jantelagen.”

  • /nina

    Where I work, a large telecommunications company, we even talk about lagomization – spending enough money on something in order to make it fit the customer needs but not overspending ;-)

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      Interesting! I hadn’t heard that. Thanks for commenting.

  • Martin355

    “tell me in reverent tones that there is no word that means the same thing in any other language”

    That’s plainly false, the same (one-word) concept exists in many other languages — Estonian, Finnish, Bosnian, Japanese…

    • cynic

      I was kind of a given that it would exist in Finnish, it is and have always been a fundamenatl concept for Swedes no way a people living for over half a millenium under Swedish rule could have avoided it. So if the Finns didn’t alreday have a word for it they would have had to create or import one.

      • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

        I’m living under Swedish rule…can’t avoid that lagom… :)

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      Didn’t know that. Thanks for commenting. :)

  • Monica-USA

    There is no lagom when it comes to candy and alcohol in Sweden though. :o )

    • cynic

      Sure it is. No alchol expcept maybe a glass to dinner and binge drinking over the weekend. Seen to our history and other countries in the vodka-belt that is drinking in moderation :)
      Same for candy, limited amounts except for special occassion and every Saturday when it is ok to stuff yourself :)

      • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

        I love Saturdays. :)

  • S Terzian-Feliz

    Love lagom!

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      It’s a great word…

  • Vaestgoete

    Jantelagen is lagom’s ugly cousin.

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      See the post on Jantelagen… Thanks for posting.

      • Vaestgoete

        I like how you have put the two concepts in relation to one another,

  • http://nittonniotre.blogg.se/ Emmie KaosFlicka NittonNioTre

    Actually, I think that lagom is a mentality that leaves you always feeling slightly unhappy. And that’s also a part of Swedes beloved persona. We like sitting at home grumpy about the things that we didn’t finnish at work, and later at work about the things we didn’t have time for at home. Although, a place where lagom is always best, (my grandmother taught me) is in baking, because, when making a simple bread dough, you mostly can’t follow the recipy point by point, but you need get a feeling for when the dough is lagom, not to moist and not to dry..