Linnea Dunne is a Swede living in Dublin. I am predisposed to like her already. Anybody who tries to preach balance and abstinence to the Irish is a brave, brave woman. And that is what she does in her book, Lagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living.
Lagom, as any scandi fan or nordic nerd will know, is the Swedish word for a life lived in balance, for not too much or too little but just enough. The Guardian, God bless it, who can’t handle more than one foreign concept at a time have already written to say that hygge is under threat from Lagom as one of the foreign lifestyle trends that will hit 2017. Elle magazine had jumped ship in January this year.
And decent scandi fans and nordic nerds will know that is completely rubbish. Lagom (as in not taking too much or living too wild a lifestyle) is perfectly compatible with hygge (appreciating comfort and building a safe world) because that cosy living feels better after it has been earned by work, stress or effort. Hygge is about having balance in our lives as well.
But Lagom must have made it big this year on the bookshelves. There are 11 books on Lagom lined up on Amazon at the moment, all published this year and five published in July to September alone! The colours of lagom must be pink and grey, judging by the covers, and there are no cover shots of mugs held in mittens or snow on branches. I’m guessing lagom has a less Winter-linked persona than hygge was given by the press and publicity departments. I am working my way through the books, yes. Linnea’s is the first one I ordered, and I am enjoying it.
If you own (and who doesn’t?) a copy of The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking then you will understand what I mean if I say that Lagom is almost a match for it in size and production style. The cute green cover, with the symbols of a life lived in balance, is attractive and that colour ethos is carried throughout the book. The text is well-balanced and designed in boxes or free on the page, with neither too much nor too little going on.
Illustrations and photographs are well-mixed as well, with the illustrations in heavily green or red colours. I like them: they’re clean, crisp and add to the lagom of the book. Photographs, some of which are stock images and some, I think, taken for the book, are energising, full of youth, nicely presented and never overwhelming.
The whole look of the book is lagom. It doesn’t scream at you, it just sits there, confident that a sensible balanced person will want to read it.
All right, enough of the externals, I can hear you say… What’s it about???
Well, Linnea sets out her stall very clearly in seven chapters plus an introduction. The chapters are called Living Lagom, Eating Lagom, Styling Lagom, Feeling Lagom, Socializing Lagom, Lagom for the Planet and Lagom for Life. Lagom, not too little, not too much, is believed to come from the Viking term laget om, translated as ‘around the team’ and comes from the sharing of a horn of mead where everybody gets a sip. Etymology, however, points to a connection to lag, meaning a form of common sense law.
Lagom is about acting for the collective good. In words nicked from Toy Story, Sweden has a ‘Leave No Man Behind’ policy. It has a very generous welfare state system, with maternity and paternity pay, equal rights and a childcare system that leaves the UK blushing. It also relies on people not abusing the system, and has a loathing of waste. If only….
The chapter on Living Lagom is about finding and keeping that mythical work-life balance. Having lived in Dublin since the age of 19, Linnea knows that the offices in the UK and Ireland aren’t set up for a good work-life balance so the advice she gives on achieving lagom is very sensible: start small, build up, work towards an office fika break by sharing with your immediate colleagues. Her pages on fredagsmys are pure hygge, as indeed fredagsmys is itself, since it means Friday Cosy. It means having a cosy night in with your loved ones, eating easy prepared food and watching easy TV. There are other nights for exercise and entertaining, why not have Friday evening off after a busy week at work? Why is that a danger to hygge?
Food is never far from anything Scandi, I have found, and the chapter on Eating Lagom is about enjoying food, not over eating, and entertaining in ways that don’t break the bank or cause time pressures. Balance, balance, balance.
I could go through the whole book. It’s a very sensible book of advice about keeping your life balanced, about living with enough. That’s a very powerful message so often missing in the UK today. You will enjoy her take on interior design and wardrobe. Think quality not quantity and shape a life you love. I can’t say any more, or I will have talked my way through the whole book. And I’m well aware that I need to bring this review to a close. You’re actually just waiting for my conclusions, aren’t you?
I really enjoyed the book. I liked it physically (it is a pretty book and beautifully illustrated) and I like the message it conveys. We should be living a more balanced life: if balance and self care are what makes Denmark and Sweden happier places, then the UK should try some and see. Lagom is a very good introduction to the concept, easy to read and not too long or too short. Just lagom, in other words.
Despite reading and reviewing Lagom, I write about life from the hygge point of view. My first two books are available now: 50 Ways to Hygge the British Way is available in Paperback and Kindle version and so is How to Hygge Your Summer, again in Paperback and Kindle form, from Amazon. If you purchase through the links on this page, I get a couple of pence extra per copy, and if you’ve already read it and enjoyed it, please leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads. I have a Goodreads Author’s Page!
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