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Finding Balance, Embracing Happiness, and Living “Lagom”

Meghan Shookman, Senior Brand Manager of Innovation for Prepared Foods

Meghan Shookman lifestyle
Meghan Shookman, Senior Brand Manager of Innovation by day, wellness blogger by night.

Take a second to imagine the world’s happiest person. What do they look like? What are they doing? Where do they live? Maybe you’re picturing a svelte Ryan Gosling on a beach without a care in the world. Or Prince Harry and Meghan Markle dining on high tea in Buckingham Palace. Or a dozen free-spirited yogis flowing through Crescent Moon in the Himalayas. Or…a Swedish couple, in average slacks, biking to work with their kids on a chilly, gray morning?

Not my first guess either.

But time and time again, Scandinavians top the list of the happiest people on Earth according to the World Happiness Report, a study across 156 countries that ranks the peppiest populations. Four countries dominated the list the last four years: Denmark, Switzerland, Norway and Finland. Notice anything in common? The Scandinavians, despite the cold dreary climates they live in, seem to have a handle on happiness. What’s the secret? To over-simplify, ironically, the answer seems to be, “the simple life.” More formally, two terms that are tough to translate into the English language: the Danish term “hygge” (pronounced “hoo ga”) and the Swedish term “lagom” (pronounced “law-gom”).

Hygge and lagom topped several recent pop culture and wellness trend lists from Greatist to Real Simple. It seems more and more people are coming to the realization that less is actually more.

As a senior brand manager of innovation for Prepared Foods it’s literally my job to stay on top of not only food trends, but also the cultural trends that influence how we live, eat and breath every day. See, the next big thing isn’t always about flavor – it’s about the cultural shifts, or macro trends, that influence our daily decision-making over the long-term. Like the mindfulness buzz of 2018 that has 7 in 10 consumers wanting to know and understand ingredient lists, according to Forbes. The beauty of my job is that it enlightens my personal life as a wellness blogger too. Which is why I’m so keen to fully understand, embrace and share with you how to exude these concepts in life and work. So, let’s get down to business–what the heck are these newfangled concepts?

According to Hygge House, “hygge” is a feeling that epitomizes coziness and enjoyment of the simpler things in life. Oxford Dictionaries actually proclaimed it as one of their words of the year in 2016. And since then, lagom has become the new, trendier version of hygge. “Lagom” is best translated as “just enough.” To get a vibe for this concept, let’s turn to our familiar friend, Goldilocks. She wants not too much porridge (that would be wasteful) and not too little (how would she have enough focus for her day?) and it also need not be too hot (again, energy waste). It’s all about balance, moderation, simplification and slowing down. Sign me up for la vida lagom!

As it was my mission to become an internet expert on hygge and lagom, I not only wanted to study the terms and their relevance but also wanted to put them into practice—and help others do the same.

Here are some tips to help you hygge and live more lagom:

lagom - balance

1. Cook Once, Eat Twice

Find that coveted work-life balance with recipes that allow you to cook once and eat like a king the rest of the week. This includes crock pot recipes that make large batches so you’ll have leftovers for lunch all week long, or freezer meals for later. You can also find recipes that use common ingredients, like a sauce that can be used in two similar, but different dishes like Thai peanut sauce featured in this Thai Rainbow Quinoa Bowl and Thai Tofu Tacos.

This will allow you to spend less brain power thinking about the 6-PM-what’s-for-dinner shuffle and less time grocery shopping or prepping in the kitchen. Use this time to do something you love—hit the gym, read a book, or call up a friend.

2. Initiate Walking Meetings

If you can’t fit in a workout amidst all those meetings, switch things up with a walking/talking meeting. It allows you and your compadre to get some fresh air and reinvigorate that mind and body. Coffee chats are great, but a walking date does double duty.

3. Adopt a Signature Look

Deciding what to wear to work shouldn’t be a chore, but sometimes the pressure to keep up with current trends is so stressful (yes, first world problems). Think about adopting a wardrobe of solid staples that you can reinvent with accessories like a jeweled necklace, handkerchief, bold belt or cozy wrap (sorry guys, this one’s more for the ladies).

But even our friend Mark Zuckerberg puts a little lagom in his life with his iconic gray T-shirt—he says that even small decisions—like contemplating what to wear—take mental energy that he doesn’t want to waste on the little things. Having a go-to look can free up our minds by eliminating one of our daily conundrums from the moment we wake up, and we can save our decision-making for the things that truly count.

lagom - colorful carrots

4. Take a Break

Self-love was all the rage in 2018—and for good reason! We all need a mental refresh and shouldn’t feel selfish for taking time to grab lunch with co-workers or booking a conference room to get a bit of peace and quiet or using a lunch break to focus on our “passion projects.” According to Psychology Today, these breaks can help you more effectively go about your day by resetting your mental track. Have you ever gone for a run and suddenly found the answer to a problem? Yup, that’s the magic of a mental break.

5. Balance Your Plate

Lagom is basically the opposite of extreme diets. According to Well and Good, everything in balance is exemplified by Swedish pizzerias, which often serve “pizzasallad,” a punchy cabbage salad, alongside the pizzas. Honestly, it’s pretty much the best of both worlds. It’s a fresh complement to the pizza and fills up the plate (and your belly) with something other than dough, and also helps with digestion. Think about color and food group diversity on your plate. Eating the rainbow actually has benefits. Check out this post to learn more.

Now that we’re all experts on the Scandinavian secret to happiness, let’s spread a little cheer around the office and see if we can bump the U.S. up a notch on next year’s list.

Follow Meghan's wellness blog, The Shooks Life, and find more of her wellness inspiration on Instagram

Published January 22, 2019.

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