To understand the Swedes, one must understand “Lagom”.Lagom (pronounced [ˈlɑ̀ːɡɔm]) is a Swedish word with no direct English equivalent, meaning ” enough, sufficient, adequate, just the right amount”. Lagom is also widely translated as “in moderation”, “in balance”, “optimal” and “suitable”. “Lagom” carries the connotation of appropriateness, although not necessarily perfection.
The value of “just enough” can be compared to the idiom “less is more”, or contrasted to the value of “more is better”. It is viewed favorably as a sustainable alternative to the hoarding extremes of consumerism: “Why do I need more than two? Det är [It is] lagom” (Atkisson, 2000). It can also be viewed as repressive: “You’re not supposed to be too good, or too rich” (Gustavsson, 1995). Lagom can be defined as normal or in moderate balance, but it also has an undertone of “not too much or too little” as well as “just right”, one is standardized to the central norms of a society.
In Sweden it is a commonly understood and often discussed topic that the citizens are striving to achieve a state of “lagom.” Lagom has worked well for Sweden in many ways and has allowed a balancing of society and a minimization of class difference because of high income tax and good social benefits correlated to the standard of life. This way of living is the essence of everyday Swedish life and one of the reasons behind the internationally recognized Swedish phenomenon known as “the Swedish model”.
Swedes generally consider their lagom ideology as a good thing, and are very proud of this term that has become so fundamentally integrated into the Swedish culture. The concept of lagom colors Swedish attitudes and beliefs and is used in all possible contexts.
It is said that the word “lagom” have been started by the Vikings. The example given is that if there was only enough beer available for one cup at the table, they would pass it around and each take “just enough, but not too much”, or lagom. Everyone at the table would get some. Now the word Lagom is applied to everything, from work to every day life style. For example, one should not laugh to loud, get too angry, and should be “lagom”
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. Lagom is neither being excessive nor sparse but looking/feeling/being at the perfect equilibrium right in between.
Behaviors in Sweden are strongly balanced towards ‘lagom’ or, ‘everything in moderation’. The archetypical Swedish proverb “Lagom är bäst“, literally “The right amount is best”, is translated as “Enough is as good as a feast” in the Lexin dictionary. Excess, flashiness and boasting are abhorred in Sweden and individuals strive towards the middle way. Lagom may be a little word, but its impact can be great. Whether you believe that it represents an ideal rule for living – that lagom is indeed best; to a Swede it means the ideal place, where everything is as it should be.