Hygge, Lagom, Wabi-Sabi: Life Philosophies To Help You Find Harmony

What can these three life philosophies from different countries tell you about how you should approach life?

Mar 20, 2024By Viktoriya Sus, MA Philosophy

hygge lagom wabi sabi


Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a Scandinavian home. The soft glow of candlelight warms you as you curl up on a plush sofa with a mug full of hot cocoa in your hands. This is Hygge, and its essence could not be more simple: to preserve coziness, comfort, and the simplicity of life itself.


Now picture yourself in Sweden. People there live balanced and sustainable lives where they practice Lagom: “not too much, not too little.” Lagom signifies harmony and contentment to find just the right amount within all aspects of their lives.


Finally, the journey to Japan. You are surrounded by an environment one might call Wabi-Sabi. Pretty much nothing here is symmetrical or perfect; even the buildings’ outlines are often curving like organic shapes, embracing transience at every turn.


These three philosophies of life—Hygge, Lagom, and Wabi-Sabi—come from different corners of the world but hold a common goal: to help individuals find harmony in their lives amidst the chaos and demands of modern living. So, what can we learn from these philosophies, and how can we incorporate them into our lives?


Hygge as a Philosophy of “Aggressive Modesty”

A Winter Scene with Skaters near a Castle, Hendrick Avercamp, ca. 1608. Source: The National Gallery

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In Danish culture, Hygge is a concept that dates back to the 18th century. Although it is commonly called a Danish word used in daily parlance amongst Danes, its applicability often expands well beyond its literal English translation, which is quite general and common, like ‘comfort’ or ‘coziness.’


The word, in fact, comes from Norwegian via Old Norse, where it refers to ‘well-being’ and has been expanded over time to encompass much more than just physical comfort. Hygge is simply a way of life that focuses on creating an atmosphere filled with a cozy setup of warmth, camaraderie, and contentedness.


It embraces the idea of finding happiness in small pleasures—something simple and homemade—as opposed to seeking gratification in material things and cultivating meaningless relationships.


A person experiencing Hygge in Danish culture does so by fighting the long and dark winters around them by focusing on creating an inviting space filled with soft lighting, candles, and cushions. Enjoying warm drinks, mulled wine, or hot chocolate while indulging in intimate talk or sitting together and doing things that increase relaxation and happiness is the way to Hygge.


Hygge is not limited only to one’s surroundings but spills into social interactions as well, where it puts emphasis on close relationships with family and friends through getting to know each other in-depth and quality time spent together. Giving greetings, sharing laughter, and good food are all references to enjoying Hygge.


Hygge, finally, is about appreciating the small pleasures in life. It teaches us to forget big achievements and wealth and look into love, connection, and coziness. By tuning into Hygge, we can create spaces that give solace whilst cultivating the deepest sense of success and contentedness.


Lagom as a Philosophy of Refusal of Excess in Life

Norsemen Landing in Iceland, Oscar Wergeland, 1909. Source: Wikimedia Commons


Lagom is a Swedish philosophy deeply rooted in the country’s culture and mindset. Lagom comes from the ancient viking expression “laget om,” which means ‘around the team’ or ‘around the group.’ This term emphasizes collective harmony and balance.


Historically, Swedes valued egalitarianism and social cohesion, and Lagom reflects this. It promotes a sense of community and fairness by instructing individuals to live within their means—neither too extravagant nor too frugal. It champions moderation in all aspects of life—work and leisure—and this leads to a more balanced existence.


Most fundamentally, Lagom speaks about finding the sweet spot between excess and deprivation. It tells Swedes to strike a perfect balance in order to reach contentment. More pertinently, it shows that an individual’s well-being can be enhanced if they make time for family, hobbies, and self-care activities like exercise or relaxation.


Lagom applies to relationships, health, diet, and work–life balance. First and foremost, it teaches the art of compromise—compromise with empathy and mutual respect for each other’s needs. When it comes to health and diet options, Lagom advises how sensible eating habits are best kept neither indulgent nor restrictive—a middle path that nourishes both body and soul.


Living Lagom, Author unknown, 2018. Source: UMCO


In terms of work–life balance—another particularly important aspect of Swedish culture—Lagom stresses the importance of leaving sufficient time for personal pursuits outside professional duties. The philosophy proves that overall wellness is enhanced when an individual has time for all the important things in life.


Sustainability crops up here, too. Sweden is deeply committed to environmental conservation. This concept advocates responsible resource use and waste management and advises mindful consumption patterns that opt for quality over quantity.


Essentially, Lagom teaches us to achieve equilibrium in our lives by rejecting extremes. In terms of practical guidance, it provides guidelines on balancing responsibilities with personal desires while fostering a sense of shared responsibility and communal harmony. By reaching out to embrace Lagom, we can cultivate a happier and more harmonious life focused on what really matters.


Wabi-Sabi as a Philosophy of Accepting Imperfection in Everything

Ko-Chan Resting, Yuki Ogura, 1960. Source: Japan Objects


In 2018, the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi removed the spotlight from the Scandinavians. Its story begins with dishes (yes, dishes). Since the 14th century, the Japanese have found romantic traits in life’s simplicity. Ordinary things made by hand, with some flaws and irregularities, have their own poetics. One of the first to develop this philosophy was the master of tea ceremonies Murat Syuko. Instead of expensive porcelain, he preferred using cups from local artisans.


Wabi-Sabi is part of the aesthetic worldview of the people of Japan. Originating in the 15th century as a reaction to the opulent and extravagant aesthetics of the time, Wabi-Sabi embraced simplicity, humility, and the imperfect nature of existence.


Particularly, “Wabi” represents solitude, simplicity, and a rustic aesthetic. It is about finding beauty in austerity and appreciating the elegance of natural materials (such as wood or ceramics). “Sabi,” on the other hand, refers to the beauty which springs with time: patina, signs of use, and other qualities that make things beautiful. This is what Wabi-Sabi values.


Today, Wabi-Sabi has grown from an interior culture into a whole philosophy. According to it, greatness lives in small details, and beauty can be part of imperfection. Wabi-Sabi can be found in yellowing leaves, crockery cracks, clothing seams, and facial wrinkles.


There are three principles that help achieve Wabi-Sabi: look for hidden beauty and pay attention to imperfections; distinguish emotions and enjoy them; and choose what makes you happy. This philosophy teaches us to accept ourselves and other people with all their shortcomings.


Wabi-Sabi reminds us about the illusory character of constancy and perfection, ephemeral things, problems, and anxieties. This is not a philosophy of forced asceticism. Rather, it’s a doctrine of conscious choice in accordance with true inner essence.


Ikigai and Kalsarikännit: Lesser Known Life Philosophies

Japanese Landscape, by Kiyohara Tama, c. 1880. Source: Gallery of Modern Art


As we move further into understanding concepts of life philosophies that help us in finding harmony, let’s explore an additional couple of ideas like Ikigai from Japan and Kalsarikännit from Finland.


Ikigai originates in Okinawa, Japan. This philosophy revolves around the pursuit of one’s purpose and passion in life. It teaches people to seek out things they take pleasure in doing, things that bring them joy.


A person finds their purpose by understanding what they love, what they are good at, what the world needs from them, and what they can be rewarded for doing. Knowing these answers means that an individual has found their Ikigai: their reason to live. The importance of living a purpose-driven life is valued by this philosophy.


This philosophy enables the enjoyment of all things that make us sparkle with joy every day. A person who follows Ikigai believes in the little things, appreciates the betterment of surroundings, and lives in spiritual bliss.


The Siesta, Vincent Van Gogh, 1890-91. Source: Google Arts & Culture


On the contrary, Kalsarikännit offers an entirely different angle on finding harmony. Coming from Finland, this concept reflects a very non-standard idea: drinking alcohol alone at home in your underwear. Reminding us, therefore, of our need for self-care and solitude.


In such a noisy world filled with a million demands, expectations, and guilt, Kalsarikännit helps us indulge in quality alone time. It is about a deep embrace of leisure without any judgment or guilt attached. Celebrating moments and taking time out for relaxation results in balance and enhanced energy levels.


Kalsarikännit helps distract us from bad news and adversity, which individuals cannot always do. People practicing it focus on making their existence, if not beautiful, then at least okay-ish.


Understanding alternatives like Ikigai and Kalsarikännit enlightens us regarding how different cultures across history have approached the search for happiness and harmony. They offer varying perspectives on finding one’s purpose, all the while reminding us of the necessity of personal well-being.


Centering our actions around our passions and values allows us to draw closer towards more fulfillment in our life, each day feeling purposeful by integrating elements of Ikigai into our life. Similarly, embracing moments of solitude through Kalsarikännit allows us to recharge our energy levels while focusing on self-care.


So, What Can We Look For in These Alternative Philosophies?

Capturing the Moment, Joaquín Sorolla, 1906. Source: Google Arts & Culture.


All these alternative philosophies have one thing in common: the presence of awareness. It turns out that to find happiness, you need to be responsible for your own life and fill your actions with meaning.


It is easier and more honest to go along with Japanese philosophy in this regard, if only because it’s aimed at inner feelings. For example, Ikigai is aimed at looking for the meaning of life that wakes you up in the morning, and Wabi-Sabi focuses on finding beauty in simplicity.


At the same time, the inhabitants of Finland, Denmark, and Sweden may seem closer to those who have suffered through hard and long winters. These philosophies are more concerned about how to feel comfortable at home: by building coziness, drinking strong drinks, cooking, and inviting guests over.


But the citizens of these countries have not arrived at these ways of life alone: these ideas have been cultivated in society for years. For example, Danes enjoy a very high standard of living, which allows them to devote time to leisure and comfort and not to waste their lives on fuss.


This also applies to the Swedish way. Reasonable consumption, moderation, and social responsibility were formed in society for decades. To follow the Swedish way of life, it is important to have the necessary tools outside the house. It’s hard to force yourself to sort garbage when the cleaning services machine dumps everything into one container.


Therefore, do not worry if you do not comply with Nordic notions of impeccability: the opportunity to learn other nations’ wisdom is great. But choosing perfect happiness should not turn into self-flagellation for not drinking cocoa. Of course, you can get some things from different cultures and supplement habits of your own ritual and your own philosophy!

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By Viktoriya SusMA PhilosophyViktoriya is a writer from L’viv, Ukraine. She has knowledge about the main thinkers. In her free time, she loves to read books on philosophy and analyze whether ancient philosophical thought is relevant today. Besides writing, she loves traveling, learning new languages, and visiting museums.