The Swedish Approach to Moderation You'll Be Hearing More About

January 25, 2018

Just when you thought you had a handle on hygge, the Danish way of cozy, simple living, there's another Scandinavian value you should know about: lagom. The Swedish tenet refers to a Goldilocks-style approach of not too much, not too little, but just right. Everything in moderation. Anna Brones of Live Lagom introduces us to the concept and how applying certain elements can help us feel better about ourselves in both a physical and emotional sense. Read on for an excerpt and pick up Live Lagom to find out more.

Photo by Photographs copyright © 2017 by Matilda Hildingsson and Nathalie Myrberg


As with all things in life, the perfect balance is to be found in the middle, and there are many lessons that we can learn from the Swedish concept of lagom and apply to our own lives.

Lagom allows us to remove ourselves from the extremes, to find balance in the middle. Extremes can often be detrimental to our physical and emotional health. We overeat and overindulge, then find ourselves trying to stick to a strictly defined regime of food to compensate. As soon as we’re finished, we’re back to overindulging. At the office, we put in long, stressed hours, never happy with our work, constantly striving to be “the best.” We bring our work home with us, checking our email in between making dinner and putting the kids to bed. We are left distracted, exhausted, and feeling far from successful. We feel like we don’t have any control over our lives as we’re attempting to do too many things, but do none of them well.

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Our modern lifestyles have become driven by the principles of taking as much as we can, doing as much as we can, pushing as hard as we can, and overextending ourselves far past our personal limits and those of the environment. These excessive lifestyles come at a cost. We’re unhealthy physically and mentally, as is the world around us. Perhaps the idea of lagom has something to offer us.

There is no easy answer to all of these things, no pill that we can take to quickly solve our modern-day stresses and problems, but what we must learn from the idea of lagom is that we allow ourselves to be “just enough.” We can work to find happiness in who we are, not who we plan to be.

In today’s modern culture of fashion and design magazines, celebrities, and social media, we’re constantly inundated with what we think we “should” be. “I should work out more. I should socialize more. I should get more sleep. I should eat better. I should have a better job. I should cook more. I should learn a new language. I should be traveling. I should learn how to [insert new activity here].”

...what we must learn from the idea of lagom is that we allow ourselves to be 'just enough.'
Anna Brones

Instead of using these impulses to challenge us to develop as human beings, they become obstacles, and instead of inspiration, reasons to berate ourselves. They hinder instead of providing encouragement. They drive us towards a social competition that leaves us exhausted. We aren’t satisfied with what we have and who we are. We are instead constantly on the pursuit for more. “If only I can get to the next step, then I’ll be happy.” This personal and social rat race becomes difficult to escape, and once on this track we’re only focused on that next step, which we think will lead to happiness, peace, and contentment. But these are things that can only be found in the present, in that space where we are living in balance with ourselves and the world around us.

It would be incorrect to assume that lagom means holding back, that if we are able to find satisfaction with who we are and where we are in life we will become static. As humans, we are always learning, always developing. Lagom does not mean putting all of that on hold, but it means finding happiness in our own evolution as individuals, wherever that evolution leads. If we don’t end up becoming renowned within our field, or if we don’t end up making a six-figure salary, that is OK. Who we are is not defined by our successes or our failures, we are defined by how we live with them.

Lagom’s benefits are not limited to personal ones. In this modern world where we live large, our footprint has taken a toll. We have bigger houses and bigger cars. We buy more and, in turn, throw away more. We live lives of excess and waste. When we are more moderate about our choices, we reduce our impact. Applying elements of lagom to our everyday lives can not only make us feel better, but also help us to pursue a more sustainable path, because when we are satisfied with just the right amount of all things, we live in better balance with ourselves, our community, and our environment.

Live Lagom is a challenge for you to think about slow living. In the same way that the Slow Food movement has brought more awareness to what we eat, where it comes from, and how we prepare it, a slow life is an intentional life, one that doesn’t take too much or cause any harm, and one that focuses on the essential.

Reprinted with permission from Live Lagom by Anna Brones, copyright © 2017. Food photography by Anna Brones. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

What are your thoughts on lagom? What do you do to try to maintain balance in your life? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jan Kaiser
    Jan Kaiser
  • Hana Asbrink
    Hana Asbrink
Hana is a food writer/editor based in New York.


Jan K. January 25, 2018
We moved to a new home in June. As we started to unpack, we stopped unpacking. In fact, we repacked! We chose to keep it very simple. We live in a far northern climate. We chose no window coverings, other than shades that retract fully, in order to let nature in. Everything is a combo of tans and whites and woods. We have little on the walls, but instead are allowing nature in. We have an open concept and have found that we like it simpler. That table is bare wood with a simple runner going from side to side (instead of top to bottom) and a bowl sitting on it. Very little on counters. We have an open concept home and are finding we prefer things bare. If you saw what we had before, you would be shocked. So we have boxes of paintings and bric-a-brac still packed. Not sure we will ever unpack it. It is so soothing. *Sigh* In our crazy world, it is peaceful.
Hana A. January 25, 2018
Hi Jan - your new home sounds beautiful and heavenly. I'm happy it brings you so much joy (with less!), thanks for sharing.