Sweden is constantly ranked as one of the happiest, healthiest, and most innovative nations.
It is home to some of the most valuable nordic companies (IKEA and H&M); and, not surprisingly, the country of Sweden has The Best Reputation in the World.
Which makes some of us non-Swedes wonder: Swedes, why are you so great??
Is it the fresh air? Is it something in the water? Is every Swede just born with it?
After wondering about this for so long, because I obviously work with a lot of Swedes, I decided to set out and do something about it. I picked up Niki Brantmark’s book, Lagom: Not Too Little, Not Too Much: The Swedish Art of Living a Balanced, Happy Life.
The book is divided into three sections: Lagom in your personal life, lagom in family/relationships, and lagom in the wider world. Each chapter comes with recipes, tips and tricks, and research to back up each point. After reading through the whole book, I picked out 10 tips to try in my daily life and see if they would bring me closer to lagom.
Did they work? Let’s find out!
TIP #1: Keep a basket or bag by the stairs and slowly fill it with stray items. Once it’s full, sort through and put everything back where it belongs.
MY TAKE: Why didn’t I think of this genius idea? We have a little nook on our staircase where my family piles everything that’s misplaced, but I think having a small basket is easier to transport. To try this tip, I bought a cheap basket from Amazon and placed it near the staircase. One week later, our staircase was completely clean and the house was better organized. Success!
TIP #2: In Sweden, candles are a big part of daily life. When the outside light starts to fade, why not add a few strategically placed candles to your own home to soothe the soul?
MY TAKE: For some reason, candles weren’t a big thing in my household, probably because my parents thought I would accidentally knock one over and set the house on fire. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t)
Since I recently moved to a new apartment, I took advantage of this tip and bought a mix of large and small candles in a variety of different flavors like tropical, fruity, and classic smells. After a particularly stressful day of moving stuff around, I lit up some candles, picked up one of my favorite magazines, and had a mini spa day with a sheet mask. The candles really helped set the mood for me to relax and de-stress. I think this tip is particularly useful in the winter months when there isn’t much sunlight outside – it adds such a cozy feeling and I highly recommend buying a few candles during your next trip to the store!
TIP #3: Swedes love to spend time in saunas (called bada bastu). There are avid users who choose to go alone, arriving at the crack of dawn to enjoy the tranquility; others use the session to catch up with a friend, and there are even whole groups who meet as part of a monthly sauna club. The heat flushes away impurities and the hot-cold treatments improve stress and circulation.
MY TAKE: When I read this tip, I was so excited to apply it! In Eastern Europe, we have a similar thing called the banya. It’s a wooden room with benches and heat, where we traditionally slap ourselves with a batch of birch branches (to get rid of toxins). I invited my friends to the local sauna here in San Francisco and had so much fun catching up. There were a few different styles of rooms, including a Finnish sauna. I’m not sure if it’s the same as a Swedish sauna, but I really felt my circulation improve and walked out of the sauna feeling light and refreshed. Ahhh.
TIP #4: Take a fika break. The Swedish fikapaus is a break with coffee and maybe a little treat. A study found that people who took morning breaks at work reported feeling more energized, more able to concentrate, and more motivated.
MY TAKE: I’ve heard about the famous Swedish fika break, and was so excited to finally test out this tip. Since I work from home, I can take a break whenever: I scheduled my fika breaks a little earlier than noon, around 11 am or 11:30 am, and would walk to my local cafe to get some “brain fuel” (AKA coffee). I noticed my creativity would jump after I came back home and started working again. During this week-long experiment, I think I came up with more ideas than the entire month – and I’ll definitely keep fikapaus as part of my new routine!
TIP #5: Watching TV together as a family is so popular in Sweden that it even has its own name: Fredagsmys (Cosy Friday). It gives the whole family a chance to catch up and feel connected.
MY TAKE: Growing up, one of my favorite activities was getting the whole family together and watching a movie – we baked homemade pizza, popcorn, and rented a movie from the local Blockbuster. We still do this occasionally, but it’s more of finding something on Netflix and watching one episode while scrolling through the phone.
To really get into it, as the Swedes do, I told my family to clear their calendars and schedule Friday as a “cozy day.” Each family member would bring a homemade item (such as brownies, lemonade, or appetizers) and a movie that he or she wanted to watch. Our Fredagsmys was super fun and connected us as a family – I would especially recommend this to anyone because it’s so easy to set up.
TIP #6: Swedes teach their children the art of moderation from a young age. Every Saturday, families go to the local supermarket and the kids get to pick out a few sweets – but they can only eat it on that day! This is called lördagsgodis, or Saturday Sweets.
MY TAKE: As a kid, I hated going to the dentist – candy was all fun and games until you get a cavity, and I had a lot of them.
Swedes have a solution for this, which is to only allow kids to eat their sweets on Saturday. Called lördagsgodis, families will go to the supermarket on the weekend, let kids pick out a few treats, and then go home to eat them. Since I’m trying to reduce my sweet tooth this year, it seemed like the perfect tip to try. I would hide all of the chocolate and candy and only open my “sweets cupboard” on Saturday. During the entire week, I didn’t feel any sugar cravings (which was a total surprise!) and when it came time for lördagsgodis, I only ate a few pieces of chocolate. This is another great tip that I’m definitely planning to use in my daily life.
TIP #7: Swedish architects are famous for creating minimalistic and ergonomic offices. One of the best tips is to stand up while working because it improves circulation, metabolism, and posture.
MY TAKE: In the book, experts say that sitting at a desk for 5 or more hours is the equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Can you believe it!?
Since I’m sitting on my butt all day, I followed Niki’s advice and did the 45/15 rule, which is to work for 45 minutes and then take a 15-minute break to walk around and get some fresh air. The book also recommends buying a standing desk (or a stand for your laptop, which starts at $20) so that you can work standing up. While I’m not at that level yet, I feel better when I take more frequent breaks and work standing up for an hour.
TIP #8: There’s a Swedish proverb that says, ‘One must learn to make others happy if one wants to be happy.’ Swedes are famous for being unselfish and thinking of others – try doing a random act of kindness to spread the joy.
MY TAKE: This was one of my favorite tips to do during my entire week-long experiment because you can do a random act of kindness of any size, whether it’s as small as donating a few dollars to your friend’s fundraiser or as big as helping a non-profit build a house.
One memorable moment this week was when I helped a couple of Italian pensioner tourists in San Francisco – they needed directions to their hotel, and I walked the 5 blocks with them to make sure they wouldn’t get lost. The beauty of doing this tip is that the person you’re helping will likely pass it on as well and also do an act of kindness, and it’ll be like one huge chain reaction!
TIP #9: Some experts suggest that eating beef has a greater impact on our carbon footprint than driving a car! Why not exercise the philosophy of lagom and reduce your meat intake to once a week?
MY TAKE: My mom has converted me into a weird half-vegetarian person, but I still occasionally eat meat 2 or 3 times a week. After seeing all of the improvements that my mom had after switching to a vegetarian diet – better teeth, clearer skin, weight loss, and so on – I wanted to give it a try. I chose Monday as my only day to eat meat (Get it, Meat Monday? Easy to remember!) and tried my best to stick to it.
By the end of the week, I accidentally ate a few pieces of turkey meat (it was on pizza and hard to resist), but overall I felt like I did a great job. Even if you only take out meat from one or two days of the week, it’s still an excellent improvement to your health – and you’ll be saving the environment!
TIP #10: The Swedish vintage-clothing market has grown dramatically over the past few years, with many people opting for secondhand over new. Swedes love a bargain from a loppis (flea market) and happily scour local online sites, markets, secondhand stores to find what they’re looking for.
MY TAKE: On my final day, I decided to treat myself the lagom way and go to a local secondhand store. There were so many colorful and fun goodies, and I ended up buying some chic new scarves (including a vintage Prada!), a cute top, and even a few books. All of these items could have been destined to a landfill, but thankfully they were donated to a secondhand store and “recycled” into a new item – in my wardrobe!
This article was originally published on April 19, 2018.