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This Scandinavian practice can help you find contentment

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"Lagom" is the art of being content, and it's something you can cultivate.

A few years ago, the Scandinavian concept of “hygge” swept the world. Everyone wanted a bit of the Danish concept defining coziness and intimacy. Now a Swedish term called “lagom” (pronounced “law-gum”) is making waves. The word has no direct English translation, but according to a digital magazine named for the term, “Lagom describes the concept of having just the right amount of something: not too little, not too much.”

It’s important to note that lagom is not a fairy-tale in which a girl with golden locks sits in three different chairs in order to find the perfect piece of furniture. Rather, pursuing lagom is the idea of finding contentment and balance with what we already have and do — in work, at home, and with our possessions. And it embodies a type of quiet respect for those elements in our lives.

Writer Danny Robins, who is married to a Swede, explains: “Personally, I think lagom has a charm to it. I’m glad it still exists in today’s world and am always surprised how ingrained it remains in the Swedish psyche … Swedish streets are litter-free not because Swedes fear fines but because they think dropping litter would make the street less nice for other people. My street in London is litter-strewn and covered in dog poo because people can’t be bothered to clear it up.”

But to Americans, lagom is certainly a counter-cultural concept. (Seriously, have you seen the size of our restaurant portions lately?) The U.S. isn’t exactly known for its restraint. So achieving this state might mean working at it for many of us. Maybe spending less (even going on a spending hiatus) and making do with what we already have. It could mean downsizing your wardrobe, or just repairing a small appliance instead of automatically replacing it.

It might not be easy, but finding contentment with “just enough” can have long-lasting benefits for both you and your family because it will bring you that thing we’re all constantly searching for: contentment.

Here a three ways you can make room for lagom in your life:

1. Curtail your media consumption

We’re not talking about essays that make you think, or real news. We’re talking about the endless stream of marketing ploys, and idealistic-promotion sneaking into your TV and social media feeds. These nurture the idea in your psyche that too much is never enough, shouting at you that only with the right car, body, house, job, and hair will you be content. Yet many of us know the reality of life to be very different. One after another, celebrities who “have it all” (money, career, fame) fall victim to depression, drugs — even suicide. Buying more than enough isn’t the solution to feeling less than enough. As C.S. Lewis once said, “If I have found a desire within myself that no experience in this world can satisfy; the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

To find true, lasting contentment, we must look outside ourselves, and our world, to the One who created and loves us. And seeking a relationship with God often involves times sent in silence and reflection. So, just for a week, turn off social media notifications on your phone and laptop. Resist checking the news and your email for an entire day. And don’t buy any magazines that promise “thin thighs, a cleaner house, and 100+ diet hacks” — at least until next month. Give your brain (and soul) a break and see how you feel at the end of the experiment.

2. Keep a blessings journal

I have kept a blessings journal for years. Every single day, I try to jot down two or three things (small, big, or in between) I’m thankful for — usually after I wake up or before I go to bed. This spiritual practice is not hard or time-consuming, but it makes a huge difference in my attitude. Guess what? When I forget to journal about my blessings, I find myself becoming more greedy, impatient, and discontent.

Another benefit of journaling about your blessings is better rest: “Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer.”

I don’t know about you, but when I feel rested, I’m more content.

3. Ask yourself questions

In a thoughtful Psychology Today article, Jaime L. Kurtz Ph.D writes, “For a happier, more balanced life, start by asking yourself, ‘Is this lagom?’ Ask it when you look inside your crowded closet, or as you consider your relationship with your work. Ask it when a massive portion of food is placed before you, or as you consider that second bowl of ice cream. Ask it about your life in general. Amid the more typical American life questions, like ‘Am I joyful?’ and ‘Can I do better?’ add in these much more reasonable questions: ‘Am I content?’ [or] ‘Is this good enough?’”

As you pursue lagom, remember that it’s not about achieving perfection; rather, it’s about moderation and balance. To paraphrase Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are — no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought” (Matthew 5:5).

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