Language helps us pinpoint exactly how we feel. But every language has its limits. Sometimes, it’s hard to find the right words in your native language to express how awesome, weird, horrifying, or hilarious a situation can be. That’s part of what makes learning new languages so fun—it opens up a whole new world of expression.
For example, delightful in English falls flat when what you really want to say is nakakagigil in Tagalog, which means that is so cute I NEED to pinch it.
Or how about the word compromise? Sure, an agreement was reached, but taraadin (تَراضٍ) in Arabic makes a far more endearing point—it means a happy solution for everyone.
In this There’s a Word for That series, we’re taking a look at the words and phrases that get to the heart of extraordinary and everyday situations. Through world-traveler Celinne Da Costa’s keen eye and real-world experiences, we’ll break down the meaning behind each word.
Now, here’s a glimpse into lagom, the word Swedish speakers use to describe a balanced, purposeful life.
What does lagom mean?
The Swedes are well-known for their functional and sustainable approach to living. This is best reflected in the untranslatable word lagom.
Lagom means not too much and not too little, and it’s used to describe almost everything, including food, weather, purchases, and how one acts around friends. Lagom asks us to create balance in our lives by taking everything in moderation, a middle-of-the-road approach that avoids both excess and limitation. You’ll encounter lagom in the classic Swedish proverb, Lagom är bäst, which has several meanings, including:
- The right amount is best
- Enough is as good as a feast
- There is virtue in moderation
This isn’t about depriving yourself of the things you love. Instead, it describes a general contentment with the “enoughness” of what’s presented to you in the moment. It’s also an awareness of what’s best for yourself and/or the group you are in.
The word itself derives from the phrase laget om, which means around the team. It dates back to the Viking tradition of sitting around a fire after a hard day of work. Mead was often the drink of choice, and each person was expected to sip their fair share of it.
What experience have you had that shaped your understanding of lagom?
In Celinne’s words, here’s how a week in the Swedish wilderness redefined her definition of “enough.”
I learned the meaning of lagom during a work assignment in Sweden, where I spent five days in the cold, wet wilderness. Alongside four colleagues, we set up camp a half hour out of the small town of Skinnskatteberg.
When I first arrived at the campsite, it was clear I had signed up for an assignment that was much more serious than I originally anticipated. On the list of amenities: mud huts, compostable toilets, and no running water. We would be chopping our own firewood, cooking our own food, and fetching our own water without the help of a guide. We were out here on our own.
The first couple of days were miserable. A self-proclaimed city girl, I struggled to adapt to these conditions. My stay in Sweden had started in Stockholm, where I had everything I wanted and more. Now, I found myself in a far-off patch of Swedish wilderness with the barest of essentials. But as I tried to acclimate to the wooden plank and sheepskin blanket I now called my bed, attempted to start fires, and washed heavy metal pots by the stream, one thing remained consistent: There was always a team member there to help me.
Lagom is as much a playful descriptor as it is a serious mindset. It defined my way of life in those five days, shaped deeply by the people I shared this space with. Every life-sustaining act was collaborative. A meal required someone to gather logs, another to fetch water, and another to wash dishes. Together, we cooked and laughed by the fire. My phone and laptop, useless without Wi-Fi, spent their days tucked inside my bag.
My constant hustle and bustle from the outside world was replaced by something more meaningful: a deeper human connection with those around me, a sense of camaraderie, and contentment in sharing what we had, and working together for what we needed.
What does lagom mean to you?
There was no fussiness, extravagance, excess, or pretentiousness to my days. Despite the initial challenges, I was happy. I had a warm bed to sleep at night, food to eat, nature to soothe the mind, and most importantly, good people with whom to share real and meaningful conversations with. Despite lacking all the conveniences of modern living, those days were just what I needed, and nothing more. Lagom. When I shared my experience with my Swedish friend, his response was:
“Camping in Sweden is very lagom. The beauty is in the simplicity. Most people work so hard in life, for money and material things. But sometimes all we need is a nice fire and some friends.”
To me, lagom meant recalibrating what “just right” meant for myself and finding contentment within simplicity, which is a beautiful characteristic of the Scandinavian mindset. Lagom can be a daily reminder to live for what matters.
Want to build on your Swedish knowledge? Rosetta Stone can help you get conversation-ready.
Celinne Da Costa (@CelinneDaCosta) is a brand identity strategist and writer who shares real, human stories around the world.
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