my new word and mantra: lagom


This morning I learned a new word, one with a familiar feeling:  lagom (pronounced like this).  It's a Swedish word, and I read about it in this article by my friend Lola Akinmade Åkerström, a friend of mine who is a National Geographic photographer.  But she also happens to be a Nigerian immigrant to Sweden, and she writes about lagom so beautifully:

Often said to be untranslatable, lagom is usually described as the Goldilocks principle of ‘not too little, not too much, just right’, which implies everything in moderation. But the true reason it’s difficult to translate is because it mutates, changing meaning in different situations and within various contexts.

It could mean ‘appropriate’ in social settings, ‘moderation’ in food, ‘less is more’ in interior decor, ‘mindfulness’ in wellbeing, ‘sustainability’ in lifestyle choices and ‘logic’ in business dealings. All these carry a connotation of ‘optimal’ decision-making.

Lagom in its most powerful form means that whatever contextual decision you make is the very best one for you or for the group you find yourself in.

Her words really struck me, because lagom feels like goals for my life since turning 50.

I haven't written much about my thoughts about turning 50, for no other reason other than mostly because they're not well thought-out.  I would say that overall, my feelings are overwhelmingly positive:  I like where I am in life, I'm content with how I look, I'm healthy, and I love my family.  But there's another side of it as well:  a realization that I have run out of patience with the extraneous.  I no longer care, for example, if people approve of how I dress, or how I look.  I have very little patience for whatever dieting fad is in fashion, or whatever workout is trendy.  I don't want to hear what foods or drinks or clothes I should be eating or drinking or wearing.  In fact, when I hear any of this advice, I become mildly irritated by it.

In short, I have run out of effs to give.

What is emerging in my life as a result of this duality -- this comfort with myself, and my lack of patience -- is, surprisingly, lagom.  I am finding myself being far more introspective of how I feel when I eat certain things or drink certain things or wear certain things or do certain things -- and I evaluate these feelings with absolutely no regard for how friends or family or society dictates I'm "supposed" to feel.  I'm playing closer attention to how my body reacts to foods and portion sizes.  I'm sitting with how my emotions or even confidence flags or soars depending on clothing or accessories that I wear or use, regardless of whether they're "on trend."  I'm paying attention to what types of drinks - both alcoholic and non-alcoholic -- that I consume, and how they affect my mood and my state of alertness, and what feels optimal.  I'm working out more -- but only doing movement I love, and for as long and as hard as it takes for me to feel energized and healthy in the hours afterwards, not drained or achy or resentful.  In short, I feel like I'm optimizing my life, in a way that makes sense, and only has to make sense, to me.

It is incredibly freeing.  And I'm feeling better and stronger than I have in a very long time.

Anyway, after reading that article, I realized that Lola has actually written an entire book on the subject, which I promptly bought; mostly because I'm intrigued by the concept, but admittedly also because it contains some of Lola's beautiful images.  But now that I have a word to describe how I'm trying to live, I feel more determined to keep following this path -- in my worklife, in how I create my home, in everything.


Soundtrack:  Aftergold by Big Wild