Live Lagom and Prosper: Should Londoners Be Living Lagom?

Living Lagom: Scandi Lifestyle Book

London can often seem like a city that’s out of balance with itself. Sky-high property prices get you small, one bed flats. Opportunities are rife, but work-life balance is skewed. Londoners can be innovative and creative, yet wasteful. So, how should those living in the capital seek to find better balance with themselves and the world around them?

In her book, Live Lagom. Balanced Living, The Swedish Way, Anna Brones, the daughter of a Swedish expat, offers that “applying a sense of lagom to our everyday lives – be it in what we eat, what we wear, how we live, how we work- might just be the trick for embracing a more balanced, sustainable lifestyle…” Like the now-popular Danish concept of hygge, Swedish lagom is intangible and difficult to define. Though, unlike hygge which encompasses moments, lagom is a way of living. It describes an approach to life that focuses on just the right amount of everything and anything. Roots of the term are said to trace back to the Viking era. After a long day, the Vikings passed around horns of mead and each person was expected to take just a moderate sip, while leaving enough for the rest of the group.

Brones summarises lagom as “not too much, not too little… just something in the middle, the moderate choice between two extremes.” But a perhaps more useful definition for non-Swedes comes from Lola Akinmade Åkerström, a Nigerian-born, US-educated travel writer and photographer, who is now an expat in Sweden. In her BBC article ‘The Swedish word that’s displacing hygge’, she explains that the reason why lagom is difficult to translate is because its meaning changes in different situations. She mentions, “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.” Explained in this way, lagom is easier to grasp.

So, should Londoners learn to embrace lagom? Is it the cheat code we’ve been unknowingly searching for to escape the rat race? Or, is it a romanticised trend?

Sustainability in the City

Material written about lagom, including Brones’ book, explains how lagom touches upon every area of our lives; from work to home and how we interact with the environment. For everyone’s favourite Swedish brand, IKEA, sustainability is at the heart of what they consider lagom. They believe that lagom is “what living a rewarding but responsible life is all about: not denying yourself or sacrificing what you love, while not taking from the planet more than you need.” Ikea’s Live Lagom project encourages people to make small changes to their lifestyles to show how living sustainably can be affordable and achievable.

With the lowest average household recycling rates of any region in the UK, it’s probably true that many in London could make some small swaps to improve eco-friendliness. It could even be as simple as investing in a reusable plastic mug for your morning coffee, saying no to plastic straws and bags, or buying veg that is packaging free. In this sense, lagom is not ground-breaking, we know we should be better to the planet, yet it reminds us that small actions go a long way when everyone is invested in the same common goal of looking after the natural world.

Pros and Cons of Lagom: Tray with tea and Lagom book

Live Lagom and Prosper?

The strong sense of moderation in Sweden and other Nordic countries extends to work, too. While Londoners cram an extra day into the working week, wracking up 8.2 hours of overtime on average each week, Swedes tend to stick to their formal hours. In fact, according to Eurostat, the working week in the UK is the longest in Europe at an average of 42.3 hours. Sweden’s working week is 39.9 hours, on average.

We live in a screen-dominated culture that glorifies busy and leads us to believe that to be successful, we must be working long hours and sacrificing our sleep and social life. While long days can be unavoidable at times, what would happen if Londoners applied some lagom-style principles to their work-life balance? According to Brones, this means changing our attitude to work. She writes, “We have a tendency to approach life-work balance by starting with the question ‘How can I work less?’ What if we instead asked ourselves ‘How can I work better?'” She advises us to work smarter with better planning and prioritising as “quality work doesn’t necessarily mean working more hours, just as working fewer hours doesn’t always mean producing work of a lesser quality.”

Fika, another untranslatable word which broadly means ‘coffee break’, also plays a role in making the Swedes efficient at work. It means making time to slow down and switch off from your work stress for a short period. While perhaps easier said than done, it’s often quoted as key for the productivity of the Swedes.

And finally, allowing ourselves to digital detox and unplug from our modern ‘always-on’ work and screen culture  helps us to recharge and re-find our creativity and motivation. Arguably, this is also pretty important for doing well at work and having those eureka moments.

Everything in Moderation

While finding balance with work and caring for the environment are undeniably positive consequences of embracing lagom principles, there is a side to the concept that doesn’t mesh well with London’s personality. As highlighted above, lagom promotes moderation and this encompasses everything in life, not just how we recycle or how long we spend at work. Yet, when delving deeper, critics of lagom highlight that this can promote moderation in personality, too. Being ambitious can be seen as showing off, whereas in London, entrepreneurialism, innovation and going the extra mile are seen as things to be celebrated.

In his Guardian article, writer Richard Orange, claims that after spending some time living in Sweden, he noticed that not all Swedes are pro lagom. Which, he mentions, differs to the Danes, who are all “fanatical” about hygge. He offers that during the past 20 years, Swedes are removing themselves from the “self-restraint” associated with lagom. And finally, he begs us not to adopt lagom as a lifestyle trend in the same way that hygge was commercialised.

Lagom and London

Where does this leave us in London? Many articles around lagom focus on the pros or cons of one aspect of the concept. Yet, to truly adopt lagom and find the Swedish formula for happiness, must we adopt all aspects, the good and the bad?

At this point, it’s useful to return to Akinmade Åkerström’s writing on lagom. She explains that lagom means making the optimal decision for the situation and group of people that you are with. The group is considered important as, in reality, a ‘lagom’ quantity of something will be considered different to different people. This could, of course, create conflict. According to Akinmade Åkerström, lagom “insists that people conform to ensure harmony and not bring their individual levels of lagom into the group because it can cause jealousy and breed resentment.” And ultimately, in an interview with The Local, Akinmade Åkerström highlights that “what makes it very Swedish (or Nordic) is just how often lagom pulls us from individual focus to group focus.”

Her argument to those that criticise lagom of being uninspiringly moderate, is that “re-centring lagom back to its optimal core carries a more holistic view of the choices we make in our lives.” In other words, to live lagom is to be encouraged to consider all the decisions we make in life collectively and find our own levels of contentment across the board, instead of in just one area of our lives. And this is arguably an approach to life worth trying.

Digital Detox and Slow Tech: Finding Downtime in the Digital Era

Our days are dominated by screens.

Deloitte’s 2017 Global Mobile Consumer Survey highlights that 34% of UK adults check their phones within five minutes of waking up. Guilty. It shares how 53% of 16-75-year olds use phones while walking and 11% even keep scrolling as they cross the road. Guilty. And, at the end of the day, it suggests that 78% of us use our phones in the hour before going to bed, risking our sleep quality from blue light exposure. Guilty, again.

The stinging sensation in my eyes after a long day at work, followed by smartphone scrolling, tells me it’s not healthy to look at screens for this long, both physiologically as well as psychologically. 38% of the respondents in the above survey would agree, stating that they think they use their phones too much. The time wasted scrolling makes me feel nothing short of baffled that a small rectangle of microchips can steal so much of our lives. The endless memes and videos, the perfect influencers on Instagram, the constant connection to work – it’s non-stop.

Of course, it’s a choice. We could all become neo-luddites and disappear to some remote island (we’ve probably all considered it), but it’s not practical. And tech isn’t the bad guy. Moderate social media use, for example, has been linked to higher wellbeing in children. So, it’s our not-so-moderate relationship with tech that’s concerning.

Slow tech and digital detox: Offline is the new luxury

Reassessing Our Relationship with Tech

Tanya Goodin, founder of digital detox specialists Time To Log Off and author of Stop Staring at Screens likens our relationship to devices to that of junk food – it’s addictive.

“Our smartphones are useful for so many aspects of our lives and there’s no doubt they save us time and make us more efficient and flexible in many ways,” she tells me, “but so much of the time we spend online is that kind of mindless screen scrolling that’s a bit like grazing on junk food without really thinking about it. We need to cut down on the digital junk and use our screens in a way that’s healthy.”

What’s the answer? We’re clearly not ready to throw our phones in the Thames. So, how can we find balance? Tanya recommends periods of disconnectedness, or digital detoxes, to encourage important downtime for our minds (and those tired eyes and aching backs). She notes how switching off from technology from time to time can help us reconnect with ourselves and those around us.

Tanya explains, “Putting our phones down and giving our attention unreservedly to the present moment pays so many dividends: it deepens and strengths our relationships and it makes us more mindful of, and appreciative of, what’s going on in our real lives. Making time to be off screen also helps us reconnect with ourselves, without screens to hide behind and escape into. Just a short period every day is all that’s needed to start reaping the benefits.”

Embracing Digital Downtime through Slow Tech

As well as the benefits Tanya mentions, ultimately a digital detox teaches you a lot about your relationship with technology.

Perhaps you’ll realise that you waste too much time scrolling, that your sleep is interrupted by your phone use, or that you haven’t read an entire book in months. Or, maybe, you’ll notice that you normally only half-listen to your family members or other half because you always have your phone in hand. Maybe, when you switch your phone back on, you’ll realise that your FOMO (fear of missing out) was unwarranted and you didn’t miss anything by disconnecting for a while.

If you choose to act on these learnings, whatever they may be, you’re joining the slow tech movement. You’re consciously making a decision to say no to the idea of being always ‘on’ and the notion that technology makes us infinitely more productive and efficient. Slow tech, part of the wider slow living movement, means to reassess how we use technology and notice when it’s interrupting natural tendencies, such as creativity.

There are many small swaps we can make to limit tech damaging natural tendencies. For example, if you normally have your phone out at dinner, put it away. Or, consider whether an analogue alternative to productivity in place of your smartphone, such as a bullet journal, may actually bring you more benefit.

Ready to find some downtime in the digital era? Switch off your phone, try a digital detox and see what slow tech learnings you discover.

How to Start a Bullet Journal and Reasons Why You Should

I’d heard of bullet journals. They were the beautifully illustrated (and impossibly neat) spreads of dotted paper filling my Pinterest and Instagram feeds. They appealed to my inner-notebook junkie – if you have a pile of notebooks you’re scared of starting – you’ll know what I mean. Plus, the process seemed like a good ‘slow’, creative activity.

So, at first glance, starting a bullet journal looked little more than filling a blank notebook with a few to-do lists, some doodles and a whole lot of washi tape. Easy, right? Not quite. When I typed ‘how to start a bullet journal’ into Google, I was met with very lengthy guides about logs, spreads, trackers and symbols. Huh? And the images showed journals completely different to what I’d seen on Instagram. There were no doodles! But, there are rules and quite a few, apparently. If you’re still scratching your head about how to start a bullet journal, I’ve created a simplified guide to help you learn what a bujo really is, how to get going and why it makes the perfect slow companion in our digital world.

How to start a bullet journal: oranges monthly spread

What is a Bullet Journal?

We owe #bujo hysteria to Ryder Carroll, a digital product designer from the Big Apple. He invented the bullet journal system and dubbed it the “analogue system for the digital age.” Is it a journal, a to-do list, or a planner? It’s everything! It’s a bullet-point focused system that helps you reflect, embrace today and set goals for the future.

The bullet journal system acknowledges that keeping a traditional journal takes time and quite frankly, many of us would probably struggle with the commitment. Instead, it relies upon a ‘language’ called Rapid Logging. This consists of topics, bullets, page numbers and short sentences (more about this below). In other words, Rapid Logging is a way to record what’s going on in your life as quickly as possible. Though, of course, many people have now turned decorating their bullet journal into a hobby.

What’s So Good About Bullet Journals?

The analogueness involved in getting pen to paper has a real draw. Quoted in The Guardian, bujo inventer Carroll says, “As much as technology helps us look outward, it comes at the expense of our ability to look inward.” The ability to reflect on tasks and events in the past and look to the future gives us a chance to live more intentionally. As Carroll puts it, bullet journaling is a “practice of living with your thoughts, not just writing stuff down and walking away from it.” 

Plus, it’s not just the act of revisiting thoughts that has its benefits. In a recent post about the glorifcation of busy, I mentioned that one of the biggest losers in our FOMO, tech-dominated culture is our creativity. Studies have found that people have fresh ideas in the shower because they let their minds wander without interruption. In this sense, there’s more to the elaborate bullet journal doodles and designs we see on Instagram. They’re the result of tech-free mindful time that many of us might not enjoy enough of.

How to Start a Bullet Journal

Get your hands on the basics:

  • A dotted notebook (Leuchtturm1917 in A5 is a popular choice due to its numbered pages and index page)
  • A black fineliner pen (or, a set with colours)

Setting Up Your Bullet Journal

Once you’ve got your hands on your materials, it’s time to learn how to start a bullet journal. It’s all in the set-up! Firstly, it’s good to know that all bullet journal pages are numbered and referenced in an index. And.. all pages have a topic and this is normally written (like a title) at the top of each page. So far, so good?

Bullet journals are made up of these core elements:

  • Index – The first two page spread in your bullet journal
  • Future Log – To plan out the next few months (or any future period of time) to make note of events and goals
  • Monthly Log – To display the next calendar month and a fresh to-do list
  • Daily Log – To record goals for a single day, what you actually did and how you felt about it

Rapid Logging uses the following ‘language’:

Tasks

A dot (•) is used to describe a task in a bullet journal. And here’s how you make sense of it:

  • X = Task Complete
  • > = Task Migrated
  • < = Task Scheduled

These are useful for those tasks you just haven’t got around to ticking off your list. This way, you can move them to the next monthly log.

Events

An O is used to describe an event. This can be an event coming up in the future, or something you want to record that’s already happened.

Dash

A dash (-) is used to make notes. These are ideas and thoughts that you can’t immeadiately act upon, unlike tasks.

Adding More Context with Signifers

In addition to the symbols above, you can add more context to your bullets by using signifiers. For example, an asterisk (*) is often used to symbolise priortiy, an exclamation point (!) is used to symbolise inspriation and great ideas and an eye symbol represents an idea that needs exploring in more depth. But, really, you can choose your own signifiers and add a key in the index.

Making Your Bullet Journal Your Own

So, now you know the ‘rules’ of the system, it’s time to get creative. One of the best things about keeping a bullet journal is that you can personalise it. You don’t just need to stick to traditional monthly and daily calendars. You can also include ‘trackers’ that fit with your own goal-setting and lifestyle. If you search Pinterest, you’ll find an endless supply of ideas. For example, a gym/work-out tracker, a mood tracker, a savings tracker, a plant-watering tracker or even an amount-of-water-drunk tracker.

And that’s it!

The Problem with The Glorification of Busy

I’ve always considered myself to be a ‘busy’ person and saw this as a good thing. I’ve always felt a need to be productive and felt dissatisfied with my day when I’m not. And, I’ve always thought of people who work long hours as admirable. But since starting Slow Living LDN., I’ve started to realise that answering with ‘busy’ every time someone asks you how you are doing is not an achievement. Does this sound familiar? It’s time to talk about the problem with the glorification of busy.

Cactus on windowsill

Stress and the City

Thrive Global, among others, likens the glorification of busy to wearing a badge of honour. You’re keen to parade it and prove just how stressed you are and how little time you have. According to AXA’s 2017 UK Stress Index, 38% of us are stressed about work. 55% of respondents claimed to check emails outside of office hours and 49% expressed concern over our ‘always-on’ culture. 85% of Londoners are stressed some of the time (just below the 86% high recorded in Cardiff, Belfast and Sheffield) and 10% of capital-dwellers claim to be stressed all of the time. And, 47% say that work is one of the main causes of stress.

But, what does this really mean? According to TUC, it means that in 2016 we racked up £33.6 billion in unpaid overtime. For 5.6 million of us, that equated to working an extra 7.7 hours a week – almost a sixth working day. In London, the average per week was 8.2 hours. When you think about it like that, it seems bizarre that we’re boasting about not having enough time for ourselves. Of course, we can’t always clock off at 5.30pm, head to the pub and ignore impending deadlines. But, losing 7-8 hours every week seems like a poor trade-off for the occasional hard-working compliment from someone who is most likely also polishing a gleaming badge of honour.

An ‘Always-On’ Culture

We all know too much stress isn’t a good thing. However, the glorification of busy also exists when we design jam-packed social schedules around already saturated working weeks. Maybe it’s due to FOMO (the fear of missing out), but there’s also a certain perceived pressure to be young, fun and making the most of city life.

And, when we’re not working or socialising? Our always-on culture – our dependence on digital devices and their ability to keep us feeling ‘on’ or ‘plugged in’ at all times – means we’re constantly connected to work and hundreds of friends and mere acquaintances through social media. Let’s be honest, it’s a constant information overload.

So, what happens when we’re busy at work, busy with friends and our minds are ‘busy’ when they’re supposed to be relaxing?

The Forgotten Problem with Being Too Busy

“You can’t continue to regenerate creatively unless you have time to daydream, relax and do nothing” – Lisa Congdon, artist

This quote has been at the back of my mind since I came across it in Flow magazine. Stress and tiredness probably take the limelight when you’re thinking about the impact of being overly busy. But, this quote reminds us that there’s another loser; creativity. It’s confirmation from someone who is creative for a living that maintaining creativity isn’t possible if your schedule and mind are always full.

Studies have also come to the same conclusion. Cognitive scientist Scott Barry Kaufman contributed to a study for Hansgrohe that found that 72% of recipients experienced creative ideas in the shower. He explained, “The relaxing, solitary, and non-judgmental shower environment may afford creative thinking by allowing the mind to wander freely, and causing people to be more open to their inner stream of consciousness and daydreams.” The shower is one of the few places we’re free from digital distractions, so it’s no surprise we experience eureka moments here. I vouch for going off-grid. After a few days of salty air on a recent staycation, I actively noticed my creativity coming back (albeit slowly).

So, in the race to wear a badge of honour, are we actually just designing creative blockers that take longer to overcome as we’re professionally and socially at saturation point? There are many issues with the glorification of busy, but if you agree that ‘daydream’ time always loses out and our creativity suffers as a result, it seems more illogical than ever. After all, you don’t need to be an artist to merit the importance of creativity at work.

Tips for Slowing Down and Embracing JOMO: The Joy of Missing Out

FOMO, a term that made it into the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013, describes the fear of missing out. It’s a feeling or sense of being left out that’s heightened by today’s “always-on” culture – we’re constantly reminded of what we’re missing out on through social media. Photos and stories flood our feeds to show us just how much of a good time our friends and acquaintances are having. In fact, a study by psychologists at Nottingham Trent University found that FOMO was one of of the key factors driving participants’ social media addiction.

But, FOMO isn’t just about the fear of missing out on social activities. One of the psychologists involved in the above study, Dr. Halley Pontes, suggests that the origin of FOMO varies from person to person and “is often a result of a deficit in psychological need, such as social connection”. Another study published in Computers in Human Behaviour suggests that FOMO is associated with lower “life satisfaction”. Perhaps then, FOMO really relates to the fear of missing out on, or lagging behind on, certain life milestones. From envy-inducing travel photos and engagement announcements to new job offers, social media is where we share the highlights of our lives. Arguably, a few years ago social media was synonymous with oversharing, now, only the best posts make it online. While it’s nice to see our friends’ achievements, we can’t help but compare ourselves to all the good stuff they’ve got going on. Should we pack up and go travelling for a few months? Should we be on the property ladder too? Why haven’t we got a promotion? If this all sounds too familiar (and tiring), maybe it’s time to switch FOMO for its slow sister, JOMO.

Flow magazine with cup of tea: JOMO

You Do You: Tips for Slowing Down and Embracing JOMO

Instead of fearing what you’re missing out on, JOMO is another nifty acronym to describe the joy of missing out. It’s about enjoying time alone, saying no to invites and living in the moment. It’s about ignoring the pressure to keep up. Whatever you call it, it’s really just about living and breathing the phrase “you do you” and tuning out from social media. While there don’t appear to be many studies around JOMO itself, there are many around social media and comparison culture. The study entitled “Seeing Everyone Else’s Highlight Reels: How Facebook Usage is Linked to Depressive Symptoms”, claims to be significant for going someway to explain why Facebook and depressive symptoms can be linked. It suggests that social comparison is one of the reasons why heavy use of Facebook can make us feel down. So, how do we lessen FOMO and embrace JOMO? Here are three simple tips for seeking JOMO – the joy of missing out.

1. Take a break from social media

Unplugging from social media helps remind you that the glimpses of life we see online are only part of the story. Instead of constantly feeling that there’s always something better going on elsewhere, or trying to prove you’re enjoying yourself with an Instagram story or tweet, you’ll feel more present and connected to the here and now.

2. Skip invites now and again

There’s a lot of pressure to make the most of your time, especially in metropoles like London. There’s a new pop-up or rooftop bar opening nearly every other week – it’s pretty exhausting, right? JOMO is about learning to say ‘no’ to invites when you’d really just prefer a night-in on the sofa. And, more importantly, knowing you’re no less fun for doing so.

3. Make time to be alone

Set aside a night a week, or at least a few hours, to spend time alone. Solitude is important for unwinding, finding focus and recharging. If social media and your friends’ milestones are leaving you feeling anxious, use your JOMO downtime to work out why and how you can work towards your own goals.

So, JOMO is all about being self-aware, reducing time spent on social media and consciously deciding how you want to spend your own time. JOMO challenges you to live your best life and not just an Instagram-worthy version of it. Whether or not we feel like we need another acronym in our lives, the above research highlights that more frequent breaks from the online world could do us good.