Hygge, Lagom and the Joys of Simplicity

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No matter where you live, the onset of cooler temperatures is nature’s signal that the sun-filled hectic pace of summer has ended. While some people welcome this slower time of year with
open arms, just as many dread the shorter days and plunging temps.

When it comes to embracing winter instead of fighting it, the Swedes and Danes have some philosophies that we all could take a lesson from. Hygge and lagom are Danish and Swedish words that reflect the concept of living mindfully. Specifically, they share ways of living that promote wellness and being “in the moment” with the life we have right now. They are two concepts of balance, welcoming and simple living that go hand-in-hand with the arrival of the winter season.

Hygge, pronounced “hoo-gah,” is a Danish word that means something along the lines of enjoying cozy intimacy and feeling content in the moment during the winter months. It’s about exploring and celebrating daily luxuries and connecting in a meaningful way with loved ones or trusted friends. Hygge is about “snuggling in” with a soft blanket, a cup of tea and your favorite music and truly practicing kinship and coziness.

Hygge appeared in Danish writing in the 19th century and has since evolved into the cultural idea known in Denmark today. With up to 17 hours of darkness per day during the height of winter and average temperatures hovering around zero, Danish residents know that they will be spending more time indoors. As a result, there’s greater focus on a slower, gentler way of life while making the act of relaxing at home as inviting as possible.

For many, hygge is more than just warm socks and candles. It’s an attitude about life that helps countries such as Denmark, Switzerland and Iceland be viewed as among the world’s happiest locales. Practicing hygge means acknowledging or creating little charming moments that help break up the monotony of our days or weeks while also helping us slow down and appreciate simple pleasures in life. For some this can look like copious amounts of alone time while others prefer the comfort and camaraderie of others to navigate the cold winter months.

But hygge is not just about indoor activity. If a brisk walk down a snow-filled forest path makes your heart sing, then by all means, do it! Embracing the season is a large part of the observation of “hygge season.”

The Swedish word lagom, pronounced lar-gohm, means just the right amount, not too much, not too little. It comes from the phrase “Lagom är bäst”—the right amount is best.

In Living LAGOM by Oliver Johansson, this Swedish way of life is described as “a way to learn balance and mindful contentment with just the right amount of everything in life.” Not as stringent as minimalism, lagom isn’t about hoarding; it is about finding a balance in life in which there is “just the right amount” of life’s needs and desires. Whereas hygge is more of a seasonal habit, lagom is much more of 365-days-a-year lifestyle shift.

Like Denmark, Sweden is a land of extremes, but within these extremes exists balance that is inspired by the vast and dense landscapes and love of simplicity. Sustainability is also an important part of lagom, so much so that Swedish company IKEA has formed a Live LAGOM project to demonstrate how to live more sustainably and in an environmentally friendly way. From planning meals ahead of time to cultivating gardens, storing food correctly to reduce waste, conserving water inside and outside the home and conserving energy by turning off lights, this project shares ways to make little adjustments that can make a big impact on our world. IKEA’s mission with their Live LAGOM community is to encourage people to make small changes in their lives to live a happier, healthier lifestyle.

Lagom also encourages frugality, but in more of a “quality over quantity” way. In a world that seems to think more is better, lagom encourages consumers to make more conscious choices when adding things to a home. Those who are fans of a minimalist lifestyle and capsule wardrobe or those who strive for a no-excess, no-clutter home are more likely to embrace a lagom lifestyle. Yet living lagom is not about deprivation; it is about making buying decisions based on what will reduce our carbon footprint while also cultivating a comfortable lifestyle.

Which appeals to you? Hygge? Lagom? ■

Sources: bbc.com, ikea.com and paleoplan.com.


It’s Hygge Season!
Get ready with this hygge checklist:
• Unplug from technology and turn mobile phones off.
• Use soft lighting or lit candles.
• Don warm socks and comfy clothes.
• Prepare some hot tea or cocoa.
• Find a snuggle spot such as a chair, couch or bed.
• Select good book or a movie.
• Find a snuggle buddy (optional).