Everything in Moderation: Examining the Swedish idea of ‘lagom’

By School House

6 years ago

by Dr Felicia Kirk, Headmistress at St Mary’s Calne

St Mary's Calne

There was a piece in The Telegraph[1] online around this time last year about the Swedish idea of ‘lagom’, which is the successor to the Danish ‘hygge’ from the year before. In case you don’t keep up to date with these things, ‘hygge’ was all about snuggling down for cosy moments with friends, whereas ‘lagom’ is apparently a contraction of the phrase ‘laget om’, which means literally ‘around the team’. For the Swedes it’s come to signify the idea of not too much, not too little, just right – share and share alike for the benefit of everyone. And it’s easy to see the attraction of this at a time when we’re all being urged to think about the wider sustainability of everything do, as opposed to maximising our own short-term success or happiness. Those of us who remember our Greek philosophy might hear echoes of the Stoics and Epicureans in the idea of lagom too, but I suspect they would be a harder sell in the lifestyle pages of the newspapers than the much trendier Scandinavians.

The Telegraph piece ultimately finds that at least some of the Swedes have an ambivalent attitude to lagom, and lean towards a more go-getting and individualist approach to life. It’s certainly important to see lagom in its context of their famously egalitarian society, with its big middle class benefiting from a redistribution of wealth which is far more extensive than ours. It does feel like a very ‘middle class idea’ that’s far more likely to be accepted with those who are already pretty happy with their situation than by those who are struggling to get by.

It’s interesting to read lagom across into the world of education too. There are obvious parallels between a lagom society and the ideas behind the comprehensive system, and it might not seem that choosing an independent education is a very lagom thing to do. But in fact I’d argue that there is a lot that the Swedes would recognise and approve of in what we do here at St Mary’s. We absolutely do enable our girls to achieve excellent results academically as the recent Parent Power survey in The Sunday Times showed. But we also do everything we can to encourage the girls who come here to be real all-rounders who are able to develop their talents in whatever area they lie and to achieve a balance in their lives. We spend a great deal of time making sure that the right support is in place and the right messages are being delivered to avoid the intensity and stress that many of our parents worry about. This is much more easily said than done of course and it’s something that parents also have to face: it can be very difficult to know how to strike the right balance between showing an interest in your daughter’s work (and maybe addressing a problem before it’s too late) and putting on unnecessary pressure. No two situations are the same of course, and we’ll always do everything we can to help parents make the right choices.

I really don’t want to overstate the importance of something which in the UK will never be much more than a lifestyle trend for the pages of the Sunday supplements. But I do think that it might not do any harm to go back from time to time to the ideas that lagom represents, especially when life starts to get challenging – whether that’s exam pressures, team selection or the hundreds of other areas of life that all our girls have to navigate.

For now, though, let’s not focus on lagom or moderation until after the holiday season – and I hope you have many moments of hygge over the next few weeks!

  1. Anne Hart, 16 January 2017

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