HYGGE. In 2016 magazines implored us to get our hygge on through editorials featuring candles, cosy blankets and woolly socks an idea that us Irish could certainly get behind.
On Instagram there’s almost two million posts tagged with the term and retailers quickly realised that the trend could be capitalised upon with many a blackboard promoting hygge alongside displays of scented candles and cashmere throws.
Enter lagom which, in terms of buzzwords looks set to be the hygge of 2017, though marketers may find it a little more difficult to sell stuff off the back of a concept based around the idea of “sufficient” or “just right”.
Lagom is said to have originated in the Viking phrase “laget om” or “around the team” back when Vikings had to share a cup of mead and make sure everyone took just their share. The Swedish term thus implies moderation or appropriateness. It might mean “adequate” or “just enough” and seems to tally nicely with our New Year’s resolutions whilst being more sustainable than the self-flagellation that is #dryjanuary and #newyearnewme.
Linda Sahlin McConnell works as a team leader in financial services and lives in Ireland with her Irish husband Paul and their three children. Linda says that lagom is difficult to describe as the term is a neutral one without a positive or negative meaning. “I suppose it means not too much and not too little just right,” she says. “Or as we say ‘lagom är bäst’ or ‘the right amount is best’”.
Linda says she was surprised to hear of lagom as a trend: “I wondered why it would be an attractive word to spread internationally. To me, the word has always been more about something adequate. Not too much food just the right size portion. Not too hot just a comfortable temperature. Having read about it though, I like the more modern use of the word. Thinking of it as a way of clean living, reducing waste, a healthier lifestyle... also looking to Swedish design as fuss-free and practical with cool, clean lines. I’d like to think that’s something we can all aspire to.”
While it might seem that lagom is a notion which would be confined geographically to Sweden, Philip Konopik, Country Manager for Visa in Ireland says that it is something that’s put into practice by Swedes wherever they live. “Lagom is also entirely subjective, so what I deem to be lagom is not necessarily the same as what you do,” explains Philip.
CEO of Behaviosec Neil Costigan, is a Carlowman who lives in Luleå, Northern Sweden with his wife Viktoria Mattsson, Head of the Innovation & Collaboration Unit at Lulea Technical University and their daughter.
Neil says that lagom seems to eradicate the ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ mentality that can obsess people here. “There’s a sense that what you have is good enough people don’t need to be vulgar in displays of wealth. Why get a bigger house? This one is fine. An expensive coat? Last year’s one from H&M is fine. Think of Ikea, Volvo and H&M not bad, not the best, but good enough,” he says.
But could lagom lead to a lack of ambition a sense that your current job is fine and that there is no need to strive for promotion for example?
“It is interesting to reflect on whether or not lagom as a cultural phenomenon would make Swede’s less ambitious,” says Visa’s Philip Konopik. “I don’t believe it to be the case but I do think that Swedish people’s desire for a work-life balance is more pronounced than is common in Ireland. However, coming back to the point of subjectivity, an ambitious person will simply define their level of lagom to suit their level of ambition.”
Viktoria Mattsson agrees. “It is by no means a way for us Swedes to get away from achieving our best,” she says. “Instead it is a way of identifying when things are good enough, which is needed sometimes.”
So, could non-Swedes embrace lagom with the same ease as hygge’s cuddly knits, cinnamon buns and cosy evenings in front of the fire? And would the introduction of lagom even enhance our lives?
Consultant clinical psychologist DrFiona Weldon (www.drfionaweldon.com) seems to think so.
“My understanding is that lagom permeates and underscores Swedish society from politics to sport to the environment,” says Fiona. “From a personality perspective lagom is the opposite to narcissism. In Ireland we live in a very competitive world where people have to compete educationally, vocationally and in the family to achieve and standout.”
“From a psychological perspective what can contribute to the cause, but also the maintenance, of something like depression, is our expectations of ourselves. If we constantly compare ourselves to the neighbours or the person in work then we can drive our mood low. We are also very stimulus-oriented and content-focused we are constantly on our phones and online so there is a stimulus-ness about that. Lagom might help us decide what is enough the right amount of time to spend online for example.”
Fiona suggests that we could set aside some tech-free time, some time to talk or think or to make that decision not to check every app on our phone before we’ve even arisen from bed. “This notion of balance is relevant in terms of mental health because if we are not still or quiet we cannot pick up or reflect on how we are actually feeling or thinking or what is stressing us,” she says.
But Fiona warns that as lagom is not embedded in our collective psyche it may be difficult to achieve. “I would say to take some lagom with lagom everything in moderation even lagom in moderation,” she says.
“Trying to achieve lagom in its purest sense in this society would be very difficult. But, if we were to think about bringing a little lagom to our lives in terms of food, alcohol or technology it might make the world of difference to us on an individual basis. What would it look like to bring that sense of ‘just enough-ness’ into our lives? It might be different for each person, but it might be useful.”