Having moved to Sweden just a week and a bit ago to spend my second year of my Master’s studies here, I am extremely excited to explore Swedish culture and language. Though my language classes only start in two weeks, I already found out about a word that lacks a real English translation and is so closely related to sustainability that it makes for a perfect blog post topic here:
Translation suggestions for lagom include, but are not limited to: “Just enough,” “Not too much or too little,”, “Just right,” “Enough to go around,” “Fair share,” “in moderation“, “in balance”, “perfect-simple”, “optimal,” or “moderate balance.” Apparently, its etymology comes from Viking times and can mean “around the team”, which means that you take for example just enough food and drink that everybody will have some. Interestingly, while compared to English words such as “sufficient” or “average”, which have a negative connotation of abstinence or scarcity, lagom is completely neutral and has the connotation of appropriateness, though not necessarily perfection.
Lagom is deeply entrenched as a societal value in Sweden and some reports say that its implications may be linked to the development of the Swedish welfare state model that exists – if every Swedish citizen strives to behave in a lagom fashion, there will be enough (wealth, taxes, etc.) to go around for everybody and ensure a more equal society. Modesty and avoiding extremes are also seen as ideal behavior; if you are rich you don’t show off your money (that is seen as tacky) and lead a rather understated lifestyle.
If linked to sustainability studies, lagom takes on a new and interesting meaning, though – as opposed to the North American ideals of “more, bigger, faster” and the rise of extreme consumerism, focusing on lagom consumption – just enough for you, and taking care that others will get some too – could bring about a true shift in mindsets. It’s also very close to the internationally accepted definition of sustainable development according to the Brundtland report:
“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Doesn’t that sound a lot like ‘just enough’, or lagom, development?
Have you ever heard of the concept of lagom before? What do you think about it?