Behind the story: lagom

I recently read a book, interviewed a kind Swedish woman and wrote an article about lagom, the Swedish concept of moderation.

As I read the book, I couldn’t help but think I was raised in lagom country: Minnesota. The book described lagom as helping one another out, so no one person has to do too much. Yup, my extended family mastered that decades ago! Someone needs a new roof? Everyone is there Saturday morning with work clothes on and mugs of coffee in hand ready to pitch in.

Gatherings are always potluck style. Everyone brings something. No one has to do too much. We even bring chairs, tables, and tents. Before the Christmas gathering each year, my aunt goes over to her brother’s house to get the tables arranged and set.

This is Minnesota

Ia Dubois, former Swedish culture instructor at the University of Washington, told me lagom is often used in terms of food. To make sure there’s enough for everyone, no one should take more than they need. This was also practiced in my hometown. Of course, we always had plenty or even too much.

I remember Grandma taking my sister and me to a ladies’ event with lunch. She had only RSVP’d for one guest, but then ended up bringing both of us. Grandma made sure she was the last one in line, so everyone else could get their fill first. If I had to guess, I would say that at the end of the event, the leftover pasta salads and casseroles were lovingly packed into old butter and Cool-Whip containers so people could bring them home.

Ia explained that in Swedish culture, you never take the last appetizer or dessert bar off the tray without offering it first or cutting it half and then half again, so everyone can have a piece. She said just eating it would earn you a disapproving look.

This happens in Seattle, too, though. When someone brings cookies to work, there’s always one left at the end of the day.

There’s some dark history to the sweet lagom lifestyle though. In Swedish culture, children were told they are not special and that they mustn’t try to be unique. They were taught to blend in and conform. A little google research revealed this had led to mental health issues in the country and has been blamed for suicides.

I think there’s a happy medium. We can be individuals with our own unique talents and desires while still doing what is best for the bunch.

This concept feels applicable to the pandemic. If we bought just the toilet paper, Lysol wipes, or flour we need, there would be enough for others. If we understand that some people have to go to work to provide essential services or provide for their families, maybe the rest of us would feel better about staying home and leaving the resources for those who really need them.

And it’s about being kind to ourselves. Lagom is about doing what feels right. If baking sourdough bread every morning isn’t your thing, maybe you support a local restaurant by purchasing bread. That’s lagom.

Some people are in a place where they can thrive during this pandemic. They can finally write that children’s book or paint the guest room. Other people are in survival mode—just trying to get healthy and meet their basic needs. Wherever you’re at is OK. It’s not a competition. I look forward to seeing you all on the other side and if there’s anything you need, just ask. I have more than I need and I’ll happily share with you. That’s lagom.

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Candace

I’m a journalist, nutritionist, doting auntie, one-time bobsledder, and wannabe health nut (who loves chocolate and pizza too much to fully commit). I don't want you to think my life is perfect. It's not.

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