When two countries that house some of the happiest people in the world offer practical advice on living, it’s a good idea to sit up and pay attention.
The Scandinavian countries, including two of which we’ll be discussing today, consistently rank in the top five most livable places in the world, scoring remarkably high in areas like life satisfaction, health, and sustainability. (1)
What is it about these countries that produces such happiness and contentment in their populations? The weather? High incomes?
Well, not exactly. It turns out the things keeping the Scandinavians smiling might not be what they have on the outside, but instead the qualities they cultivate on the inside.
Enter hygge and lagom.
Both hygge (pronounced hue-guh) and lagom (pronounced lah-gohm) are Danish and Swedish words that reflect the concept of living mindfully. Specifically, hygge and lagom are ways of living that promote wellness and being “in the moment.”
Hygge is a Danish word that is used to acknowledge a feeling of contentedness, charm, coziness, security, and comfort. It is also referred to as the “art” of creating intimacy and charm in everyday situations that some of us might consider boring and mundane.
For instance, something a simple as taking a moment each morning to brew your favorite coffee while lighting a candle before jetting off to work, or by treating yourself to a bubble bath with epsom salts and essential oils once a week, are both ways of bringing hygge into your life. It essentially involves finding little charming moments that help break up the monotony of your day or week and help you slow down.
Lagom is a Swedish word that is similar to hygge, but with a few key differences. It comes from the phrase, “Lagom är bäst,” or “Just the right amount,” and reflects the idea of always living life in balance that doesn’t have too much of too little of one thing or another.
Lagom plays a huge role in living sustainably, encouraging working with the environment in your day-to-day life, choosing natural and simple whenever possible, and shopping locally. However, the art of lagom can be applied to all areas of life, from indulging in desserts, to working, and even decor. The key to understanding lagom is “not too much, not too little” of everything in life.
While hygge and lagom may have subtle differences in their definitions, they are actually extremely similar. When looked at as a whole, they can provide us with valuable lessons on living our lives in absolute harmony, no matter how old we are or what stage of life we’re going through.
Read on to see how you can integrate both hygge and lagom into your life to start feeling happier, more content, and less stressed.
In the States, we tend to have the general mindset of “go big or go home.” In every aspect of life, we’re encouraged to (for instance) work harder and longer, spend lots of money if we’re going to spend it, eat the entire pint of ice cream if we’re going to eat it, etc.
While it’s great to be ambitious and willing to go after what we want in a big way, problems arise when this mindset isn’t balanced with a little “slowing down.” Lagom reminds us that yes, work hard, but not too much, and get plenty of rest during your down time (yep, you should make time for down time). Eat that ice cream, but only have a reasonable amount.
In essence, lagom is the epitome of moderation in everything. It doesn’t call for the total absence of something, nor does it call for too much of anything. By having a little bit of everything in life, we keep ourselves balanced and whole.
The spirit of hygge brings our attention to the small, cozy details of daily life that give us joy amidst the mundane routine of life. In fact, it encourages us to enhance these small moments by turning them into daily rituals infused with serenity and warmth.
Take, for example, having your morning coffee. Perhaps you’re in the habit of busily sipping your cup while packing lunches, cooking breakfast, checking emails, and taking the dog out. In this scenario, there’s no real time to enjoy the cup of coffee, so you down it and move on with your day.
Not only is this very un-hygge, it’s also stressful and anxiety-promoting. To add some hygge to this scene, you might try waking up 15 minutes earlier and having your cup of coffee in silence; perhaps beside a lit candle or by a window watching the sky lighten. Just this small act can start your day off on an entirely different note.
Some people might view these types of rituals as selfish, but in reality the opposite is true. When you don’t make time for yourself to enhance your personal emotional life, it’s likely you’ll become depressed, angry, or moody: all things which affect the people in your life negatively. If you take these small moments for yourself, however, you react to others much more gently and positively, which enhances their emotional state.
Indeed, hygge is good for everyone.
Practicing both hygge and lagom require bringing yourself to the present moment and enjoying it for what it is. You’ve probably experienced how liberating this can feel if you’ve ever meditated, done yoga, or played a sport; all of your attention is perfectly focused on the moment. There are no worries about tomorrow, or the past, only the moment.
When you practice lagom, you focus on the balance of being in the moment and on planning for the future. You never dwell too much in one state or the other. In hygge, the act of creating small, magical daily rituals brings your attention directly to your moment of zen. In fact, this is one of its sole purposes.
Modern research backs this idea that living in the moment is excellent for improving wellbeing and mental health, showing that those who practice mindfulness experience less depression and anxiety. (2)
An easy way to practice being in the present is to start with a moment you enjoy and become fully absorbed in it. Let’s use that morning coffee ritual mentioned earlier as an example: when you’re indulging in your coffee ritual, really be there. Don’t use this time to plan the day or worry about tomorrow; simply notice the texture and flavor of your brew as it hits your tongue. Notice how your lit candle flickers each time you exhale near it. Notice the colors in the sky as the sun creeps up.
As this gets easier, try expanding this out to other moments during your day. Your lunch break, your drive home, grocery shopping, and beyond. You’ll find it brings you a sense of peace no matter what you’re doing.
Another big component of hygge is creating coziness in your space. However, since lagom would encourage us not to make everything cozy (then we’ll want to do nothing but cuddle up with a good book 24/7), hygge encourages creating cozy “nooks” throughout your home.
For instance, you can create a private relaxation nook for yourself in your home, complete with candles, throw pillows, a comfy chair, and perhaps some relaxing music. You could splurge on some of the softest, coziest slippers ever and wear them during your morning coffee ritual (this is especially great when it’s winter and those wood or tile floors are chilly!).
Creating these spaces is actually a very Paleo thing to do. There’s a reason ancient man preferred caves for sleeping during the nighttime: the small, intimate space created a sense of comfort in the middle of a vast, uncertain world. When you create cozy space at home, you mimic this ancient need for safety, and reap its stress-lowering effects.
No, this doesn’t mean gobbling down a Thanksgiving feast every day of the year. Instead, this hygge practice encourages you to slow down when it comes to dinners and get-togethers, and focus on creating rich foods that satisfy deeply. Think of the difference between a hearty, thick Paleo chili versus a boiled chicken breast with broccoli. Both are healthy, but one blends flavors and textures in a way that makes your taste buds sigh, and your brain revel in tasty contentment.
Try to make a habit out of making your healthy dishes a rich, rewarding experience, even if it is only a few times a week. Lower the lights and light the candles as you indulge in your Paleo favorites, and finish the meal with a satisfying square of decadent dark chocolate.
Finally, both hygge and lagom involve bringing gratitude into our day-to-day lives. Lagom teaches us to appreciate “just enough” and be grateful for it, while hygge teaches us to soak up the gratitude we feel when we’re fully indulging ourselves in a cozy experience. Both of these scenarios give us reasons to be thankful, which puts life into better perspective. After all, if we have many moments to be grateful for, our life can’t be too bad, can it?
As the pace of life continues to quicken each year, the philosophies of hygge and lagom become even more relevant to living a happy, contented life. They guide us toward moderation in all things, improving our self-care, and finding beauty and gratitude in even the smallest moments, which is essential not only for our own emotional well-being, but of those closest to us as well.
With a little more hygge and lagom in our lives, perhaps we can help nudge all of humanity toward a higher happiness index.
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