Lagom Can Be Your Path to Living a Balanced Life

Lagom is a Swedish term that promotes balance in all aspects of life. Here's how you can achieve the balance—and the benefits of doing it.

Achieving balance in life is a goal you might have. For example, you might be trying to find balance between work and play or between alone time and social time. In Sweden, there is a way of life that puts an emphasis on finding balance in all aspects of life. It's a concept called lagom.

Roughly translated, the Swedish term lagom means "just the right amount." It's a concept of having not too much, not too little. Instead, lagom encourages balance.¹

The Benefits of Lagom

Lagom is about balance in all aspects in life, including in your relationships with others and the environment. It's also about finding balance within.

To have balance means you have time to do what you enjoy and what makes you feel fulfilled. That can include spending time with family and friends, working, volunteering, exercising, relaxing, and participating in hobbies.²

The balance that lagom promotes is beneficial to your wellness. That's because balance is a key part of wellness. Wellness is the feeling that different aspects of your life—such as the emotional, physical, work, or social aspects—are solid.²

The balance that comes from lagom can be especially beneficial during stressful times, when habits and routines can help you regain a sense of control. By evaluating the balance in your life during these hard times, you can focus on yourself and the role you have in the different aspects of your life.²

Sweden—the country from which the term lagom originates and that is believed to practice the lifestyle—has been ranked the seventh happiest country out of the 156 countries included in the annual World Happiness Report. In part, the ranking had to do with measurements like the positive and negative emotions of the countries' citizens.³

You don't have to live in Sweden to adopt lagom, though. Lagom is a mindset that anyone can practice.

Ways to Practice Lagom

Lagom doesn't have a specific set of rules. Your approach to lagom may not be the same as someone else's. And that's because a balanced life can look different to for each person since everyone has different wants and needs.

Everyone can develop their own daily habits to maintain lagom. Here are some ways you might be able to achieve your personal lagom:

Take a Break

In Sweden, there is a traditional daily ritual called fika. It's a time during the day when you have a coffee and snack break with colleagues or friends.⁴ Research from over the past 30 years shows that taking breaks from work can improve not only your mental and physical well being, but also your work performance.⁵

Even a five-minute break has been shown to have a positive effect on work performance. A small 2019 study showed that participants who worked for 20 minutes, took a five-minute break, and then worked for another 20 minutes were more able to keep their attention to the task at hand compared to those who didn't take a break.⁶

Even a break of less than one minute can have positive effects. If you're staring at a screen or focusing on anything for a while, your eyes can get strained. That's why it's recommended that you give your eyes a break through the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look away about 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds.⁷

Try to Have Some Sort of Work-Life Balance

If it's possible, sometimes it's good to step away from work altogether from time-to-time. One small 2018 study showed that even a short, four-night vacation can have positive effects on aspects like well being, fatigue, sleep, and perceived stress—all of which can lead to long-term health complications.⁸

Whether it's going on a vacation or not working as many hours as usual, achieving a work-life balance has been associated with greater job and life satisfaction, as well as fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety.⁹

Striking the balance might be difficult at times. It's a type of balance that often needs work in creating and keeping. To do that, it's important to figure out what's important to you and see how those personal values fit into your career and personal goals.¹⁰

Practice Active Listening

A conversation should be a balanced, two-way street. A way to make that happen is to engage in active listening. To show you are listening to whoever is talking, you would give verbal and non-verbal cues, such as asking questions, repeating back what was said, or making facial expressions to match the emotion of what the person said.¹¹

Active listening behavior can build positive relationships. When you yourself are in a conversation with an active listener, you likely feel heard, understood, and as though what you say is valued.¹²

Respect and Enjoy Nature

Living sustainably meets lagom's "not too little, not too much—just right" philosophy. Sustainability means responsibly using the natural resources the Earth has to give for what's needed right now while also restoring and protecting the environment. The cycle creates an ecological balance.¹³

Lagom encourages a balance in your relationship with the environment by not only sustaining nature, but also enjoying it. Spending time in nature may improve your health. In fact, spending time in nature has been linked to improved cognitive function, brain activity, blood pressure, mental health, physical activity, and sleep.¹⁴

Balance Positive and Negative Emotions

One way to improve mental health is to have a positive outlook. That doesn't mean you'll never feel negative emotions; those are natural and can actually help you get through tough situations. What you don't want to do is be consumed by negative emotions. So having a positive outlook is to find a balance between the positive and negative emotions.

Try to hold on to the positive emotions that you have and, when possible, take a break from negative news or ask for help when you feel overwhelmed by negative emotions.¹⁵

Exercise, but Make Sure to Rest

Exercise can provide many benefits, including better sleep, reduced stress, and disease management.¹⁶

However, too much exercise can have negative effects. Overexercising can lead to:

  • Feelings of tiredness, depression, or anxiety
  • Sore muscles
  • Overuse injuries
  • Mood swing or irritability
  • Sleep trouble
  • More colds

To get the activity you need and want but to avoid over exercising, listen to your body. That means getting the rest you need. Rest is an important part of training because it lets your body recover for your next workout.

If you develop any signs or symptoms of overexercising, exercise less or even rest completely for one or two weeks.¹⁷

Give and Receive

Getting help when you need it or receiving a gift can feel nice, but research shows that the giver themselves can benefit from the action of giving.

One small 2017 study found that both giving and receiving social support—a feeling that others love, care for, and value you—is associated with a decrease in negative emotions. However, when looking at brain scans, the researchers determined that only giving was associated with less stress-related activity and more reward-related activity in the brain.¹⁸

Research has also linked giving and receiving physical gifts to experiencing positive emotions.¹⁹

Summary

Lagom is a Swedish term that translates to "just the right amount." The term is also thought of as a lifestyle. At its core, lagom is about achieving balance in all areas of life. It has the potential to touch virtually every aspect of your life from your relationships with others to your relationship with nature to your relationship with yourself.

There are many ways to achieve that feeling of having or giving "just the right amount." Because everyone has different wants and needs in life, everyone's approach to lagom will be different. Striving for your own interpretation of lagom can lead to physical and mental health benefits.

Sources:

  1. Leese HJ, Sathyapalan T, Allgar V, Brison DR, Sturmey R. Going to extremes: the Goldilocks/Lagom principle and data distribution. BMJ Open. 2019; 9(11): e027767.
  2. SAMHSA. Creating A Healthier Life; A Step-By-Step Guide To Wellness.
  3. World Happiness Report. Happiness, benevolence and trust during COVID-19 and beyond.
  4. City of Austin. To Fika: Swedish Cultural Heritage in Austin.
  5. Scholz A, Wendsche J, Ghadiri A, Singh U, Peters T, Schneider S. Methods in Experimental Work Break Research: A Scoping Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(20):3844. doi:10.3390/ijerph16203844.
  6. Rees A, Wiggins MW, Helton WS, Loveday T, O'Hare D. The Impact of Breaks on Sustained Attention in a Simulated, Semi-Automated Train Control Task. Applied Cognitive Psychology. 2017. doi:10.1002/acp.3334.
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tips to Prevent Vision Loss.
  8. Blank C, Gatterer K, Leichtfried V, et al. Short Vacation Improves Stress-Level and Well-Being in German-Speaking Middle-Managers—A Randomized Controlled Trial. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(1):130. doi:10.3390/ijerph15010130.
  9. Haar J, Russo M, Suñé A, Ollier-Malaterre A. Outcomes of work–life balance on job satisfaction, life satisfaction and mental health: a study across seven cultures. J Vocat Behav. 2014. doi:10.1016/J.JVB.2014.08.010.
  10. Balancing Your Life at Work and Home. J Oncol Pract. 2009;5(5):253-255. doi:10.1200/JOP.091018
  11. Jahromi VK, Tabatabaee SS, Abdar ZE, Rajabi M. Active listening: The key of successful communication in hospital managers. Electron Physician. 2016;8(3):2123–2128. doi:10.19082/2123.
  12. Kawamichi H, Yoshihara K, Sasaki AT, et al. Perceiving active listening activates the reward system and improves the impression of relevant experiences. Soc Neurosci. 2015;10(1):16-26. doi:10.1080/17470919.2014.954732.
  13. US Department of Health & Human Services. HHS Sustainability.
  14. Jimenez MP, DeVille NV, Elliott EG, et al. Associations between Nature Exposure and Health: A Review of the Evidence. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021; 18(9): 4790. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18094790.
  15. MedlinePlus. How to Improve Mental Health.
  16. National Institute on Aging. Real-Life Benefits of Exercise and Physical Activity.
  17. MedlinePlus. Are you getting too much exercise?
  18. Inagaki TK, Byrne Haltom BE, Suzuki S, et al. The neurobiology of giving versus receiving support: The role of stress-related and social reward-related neural activity. Psychosom Med. 2016;78(4): 443–453. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000302.
  19. Balconi M, Fronda G, Vanutelli ME. A gift for gratitude and cooperative behavior: brain and cognitive effects. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2019; 14(12):1317–1327. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsaa003.
Was this page helpful?
Related Articles