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Our Favorite Scandinavian Books on Living Well


These slow-living philosophies will help you live a good, balanced life.

From fast food to instant insurance quotes, Americans place a premium on speed. It seems only in retrospect we lament about not appreciating the time we have. Our addiction to the daily rush of life can blind us to the benefits of a slower lifestyle, but we need only look to Denmark and Sweden for a different perspective.

Both countries have long cultural traditions that value the little things in life, which can help you simplify, downsize, or fight FOMO. Danes are fiercely proud of hygge, a philosophy loosely translated as taking comfort and intrinsic rejuvenation from the simple things around us. Sweden’s relaxing national mind-set, lagom, is, for lack of a better analogy, Goldilocks’s mantra of not too much, not too little, but just right.

The differences between the hygge (pronounced “hoo-gah”) and lagom (“law-gum”) may seem subtle but are fairly significant. The Danish hygge is appreciating the world around us to experience a more personally rewarding life, but Swedish lagom seeks the same goal through moderation in everything from meal preparation to social planning.

There are, of course, misconceptions about both. Hygge does not mean settling for what one has but instead designing our homes, physical environments, and lives so they can be sources of comfort and validation. Lagom is often confused with base minimalism rather than the elimination of unnecessary clutter to better appreciate the act of living itself. Both philosophies have escaped their original countries and are impacting everything from fashion and home decor to cooking and cocktail parties.

These books will help you understand and embrace these and similar concepts in your own life:

The Hygge Life by Gunnar Karl Gìslason and Jody Eddy is a food and lifestyle book extolling the benefits of Danish comfort food and practices. With chapters such as “Caring for Yourself” and “Easy Gatherings and Holidays,” it provides brief explanations of various hygge concepts followed by recipes (spicy baked cod) and other helpful tips (packing for a flight). Hygge Life has slower-paced solutions sure to help you overcome life’s annoyances and better appreciate the little things. (Ten Speed Press)


The Little Book of Fika: The Uplifting Daily Ritual of the Swedish Coffee Break by Lynda Balslev touches on a subject near and dear to the hearts of most Americans. The Swedes love their coffee, and perhaps the easiest entry into a slower lagom lifestyle is to take a fika, the Swedish version of the coffee break. The Swedes have taken the simple coffee break and transformed it into an art form to unwind from the stresses of life, where the true value is found within the social experience rather than in the coffee itself. Fika provides recipes, facts, and insightful trivia to transform your quick “cuppa joe” into a more relaxing and fulfilling experience. (Andrews McMeel Publishing)


The Little Book of Lagom by Jonny Jackson and Elias Larsen is a gift book that explores the process of finding balance in daily life. Filled with tips on how to save energy, upcycle decor, and reduce food waste, it also features simple craft projects, inspirational quotes, and sensible but delicious recipes to introduce lagom. Other helpful topics include guidance in making social commitments, planning family activities, setting life goals, and even managing money. The perfect book for helping find balance in a hectic life. (Andrews McMeel Publishing)


Live Lagom: Balanced Living the Swedish Way by Anna Brones is a more detailed look at lagom as it is practiced Sweden. How did the harsh Swedish landscape inspire lagom and the nation’s environmentalism? Where did the word lagom originate? Is there a darker side to the practice? All these questions and more are answered, and tasty recipes and useful advice dispensed. (Ten Speed Press)


Things Are What You Make of Them: Life Advice for Creatives by Adam J. Kurtz is a guidebook that focuses on finding the motivation and balance to maintain a healthy and creative mind-set. Most people are creative, Kurtz argues, even if they don’t realize it. This life-affirming book has the feel of a personal diary, with hand-lettered text and heartfelt but practical advice. The perfect handbook for the creative soul in need of a gentle kick-start. (Penguin Random House)


Falling into Joy: Eight Simple Steps to Allow Your Body to Become Your Best Friend by Conni Ponturo provides steps to stay connected to your natural state of joy, and better support and appreciate your body. Very few people are completely satisfied with their bodies, and we often focus on our flaws, which Ponturo argues can hinder our ability to find joy. From dealing with pain to learning to face your fears, she offers small but significant steps you can take to better care for yourself, revealing insights from her own struggles. (Balboa Press)


Change Happens: A Compendium of Wisdom by the sister-brother writing duo Kathryn and Ross Petras is a collection of brief quotes and sayings that teach us to embrace change rather than fear it. Listed alphabetically by subject, Change Happens shares the wit and wisdom from a wide range of personalities (George Carlin, Maya Angelou, Stephen Hawking, David Bowie, and many others) to illustrate that change is inevitable. Learn to go with the flow, embrace change, and transform it into success. (Workman Publishing)


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