Meet The Swede Behind ‘Lagom: The Swedish Art Of Balanced Living’

Photo by Eva Beronius; Illustrations by Naomi Wilkinson

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Meet The Swede Behind ‘Lagom: The Swedish Art Of Balanced Living’

If we could give her the title, we’d name Linnea Dunne the “Queen of Lagom.”

When we reached out to chat about her book, “Lagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living,” she was responding to us in the middle of one of Ireland’s most contentious women’s rights referendums in recent years. But, being the balanced person she is, she let us know she was a little busy, and she’d get back to us once things settled down.

Born and raised in Sweden, Dunne is a writer who studied in London and now lives in Ireland. She’s the executive editor of Scan Magazine, which promote all things Scandinavian. On her blog, she describes herself as a writer, editor, mother and activist (see above).

One of our writers picked up Dunne’s book right before she went on maternity leave, and the clever writing, miniature history lessons and illustrations instantly grabbed her attention. We knew we wanted to reach out and meet Dunne.

We chatted with Dunne about her background, her book and what’s on the horizon now that she has a little free time this summer.

Where did you first hear the word “lagom?” Was it something that was commonplace growing up, or was it introduced later on in life?

Lagom is used in the Swedish language all the time: the temperature of a bath can be lagom, the complexity of a debate or the stylishness of a dress for a particular occasion. Since the 90s, it’s also been used to analyze Swedes, Swedish culture and the Swedish psyche, among other things, by Jonas Gardell, who calls Sweden, “The Country of Semi-Skimmed Milk,” because it’s all about striking that balance – in good ways as well as bad. It’s important to understand that lagom isn’t aspirational in Sweden. It’s not a lifestyle concept as such, not a trend or a philosophy. It’s just an adjective, but it just so happens to really pinpoint something that’s been crucial in the making of Sweden and its people. In many ways, it’s made Sweden what it is – politically, socially and culturally.

What inspired you to write a book on the subject?

I work as editor of Scan Magazine, a publication promoting Brand Scandinavia, and a couple of years ago I interviewed writer and comedian Jonas Gardell. He said to me that he thought that lagom should be Sweden’s greatest export, and at first I found this a highly strange idea. But it stayed with me, and when Vogue then went on to suggest that lagom would be the new hygge in the world of Nordic aspirational trends, I found the perfect opportunity to get to delve into this a little deeper.

There are so many details in the book – from Swedish words and their origins, to recipes, photography and lots of great stories – how did you gather and pull together everything?

I’ve been a writer almost all my life, and I process through writing. In some ways, I simply couldn’t stop once I’d started – the  ideas came to me in every conversation with friends, in everything I read, when I was asleep, when I was in the shower… But of course, I did go through more conscious research phases, too, in having chats with old friends and family and reading a lot, all while regularly interviewing Swedes for Scan Magazine and being inspired by what they said and what they had in common. I wrote the book in an incredibly short space of time, so it was a very intense project and one I very much lived and breathed all last spring. Plus, of course, I grew up and was raised in Sweden, so this was an opportunity for me to really think back to my childhood and background and think about what’s made me who I am, what part of that is exceptionally Swedish, and how it differs from what I see and know now, when I’ve moved away. But I think as a professional writer and editor, it’s just part of who I am and it’s hard for me to say with hindsight how I went about it. Books are such huge, intense projects; you find inspiration and information everywhere.

You have two kids (and I just had my first), and it feels like parenthood is anything but lagom. What advice do you have for parents to keeping life more balanced?

So much of it is about perspective, and it’s something I struggle with every day, like most parents, I think. In a world that’s always on, with notifications and endless interesting information coming at us 24/7, it’s sometimes hard to just be in the moment and remember that most things can wait if they have to, that the world will keep turning even if we miss a call or log out of Facebook for an hour while playing with our kids.

And similarly, while undivided attention is crucial for children as they grow up, it’s not always those moments that mean the most; I know many people who’ve grown up to remember those days when their parents were too busy to do anything and they were just thrown in front of a movie with their siblings and some cold snacks as the most precious moments, or when they were out exploring the garden without supervision. And that’s important, too – that we allow ourselves to do the stuff we have to do, not trying to live up to some unattainable ideal of what a good mother is.

Like I write in the book: There’s nothing lagom about perfection either, and if you’re constantly striving for perfection that’s exactly the message you’re sending your kids – that they must be perfect. I think when we live our values truthfully, revealing scars and all, we teach kids to be honest and real and appreciative of themselves, too, and what could really be more important than that?

What do you miss most about Sweden? Do you get the chance to go back and visit?

I go back regularly and bring the kids, too. It’s important for me that they get to experience real Sweden, not just postcard Sweden, and I want them to have good relationships with their relatives, too. I’ve got IKEA up the road and Swedish news and music on the phone, so the honest answer is that my old friends, who’ve known me since I was a kid, and my family are what I miss most. But if I could do some wishful thinking, the entire social welfare system with near-free childcare, extensive paid parental leave, an affordable healthcare system and generous employer’s rights would be great, thanks very much!

What’s next for you? Do you plan on writing any more books?

Absolutely! I have a few ideas brewing but am always full of projects of different kinds: from social justice campaigns to ideas for businesses and books I want to write. Right now, I’m looking forward to a summer of plenty of family time and some house renovations, and then I think I’ll put my writing hat on again.

Click here to purchase Dunne’s book, “Lagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living,” and if you can’t wait for her next book to come out, following her regular musings on her website.

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