Scandinavian life philosophies for a long, happy, and meaningful life

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasures that occur every day, than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom.”

Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Sweden are ranked among the top happiest places in the world. With a focus on balance and connection, each country has developed its own way of living life to the fullest.

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Millions of Scandinavians enjoy a healthy work-life balance, high standards of living with less pressure, less stress, and more time for everything they enjoy and love doing.

Looking for a lifestyle change?

Use some of these Scandinavian life philosophies to change your perception about living a meaningful and fulfilling life.

Rethinking the keys to happiness.


Lagom (pronounced “lar-gohm”) is is a huge part of the culture in Sweden.

It means “Not too little. Not too much. Just right.”

This single word encapsulates the entire Swedish socially democratic philosophy on life: that everyone should have enough but not too much.

The concept encourages an overarching balance across our lives: everything in moderation.

At the office, professionals who work hard — but not to the detriment of other parts of their lives — are following the lagom ideal.

Rather than burning yourself out with a 60-hour working week and then getting stressed, lagom encourages balance and living somewhere in the middle.

Other features include frugality, stress reduction, striking the perfect balance between work and play and focusing on environmental concerns and sustainability.

The archetypical Swedish proverb, “Lagom är bäst”, literally means, “The right amount is best” but is also translated as “Enough is as good as a feast” and “There is virtue in moderation”.

You are probably exercising lagom is many aspects of your life already.

For Swedes, lagom is a lifestyle, a habit of mind. ‘There’s an internal mindset of acceptance and contentment in Sweden. That’s part of the secret to being happy — don’t obsess about it.
The philosophy of lagom is beautifully simple, and offers an alternative to the idea of ‘always seeking the next best thing.

Anna Brones explains in her book, Live Lagom: Balanced Living the Swedish Way, “Applying a sense of lagom to our everyday lives — in what we eat, what we wear, how we live, how we work — might just be the trick for embracing a more balanced, sustainable lifestyle that welcomes the pleasures of existence rather than those of consumption.”


In both Danish and Norwegian, hygge (pronounced as ‘hoo-guh’) means “to give courage, comfort, joy”.

In Denmark, hygge is more than just a word — it’s a central part of the culture.

It’s about giving your responsible, stressed-out self a break to live in the moment and enjoy your immediate environment.

“It is about enjoying life with friends and family, cherishing the moments. It is about grabbing hold of these moments and making them special. Not rushing through an activity so to move on to the next, it is about taking your time and enjoying what is before you now and not what is to come” says Sofie Pedersen, in her book, Keep Calm & Hygge: A Guide to The Danish Art of Simple & Cosy Living.

Hygge is a feeling closely tied to being relaxed, happy, content and at peace with oneself. It is the absence of all pretence and worry.

If you take time to lose yourself in a book, take a walk, ride a bike, share a meal, enjoy your favourite TV show with friends and family, or play board games, you are already practising hygge!

It’s the pleasure of simply being.

You cannot hygge if you are in a hurry or stressed out.

“Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down,” writes Meik Wiking, in his book, “The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets To Happy Living”.

The hygge lifestyle open to anyone. And it’s one of the best ways to practice self-care that feels sincere.


“Lykke” (pronounced loo-kah) is simply the Danish word for “happiness.”

“Copenhagen is probably the most Lykke place in the world. At five o’clock in the afternoon everyone leaves work, rides home on their bicycles, does two hours of creative play with their children, goes out to do a random act of kindness to a stranger who wants to be left in peace, lights five candles and then settles down to watch several episodes of a Scandi-noir TV thriller about some psychopathic paedophile on the loose,” writes Meik Wiking, author of “The Little Book of Lykke: Secrets of the World’s Happiest People”.

Happiness isn’t a destination, it’s a habit.

It’s what we do to make everything else in life awesome. And to be truly happy, you have to be actively involved in the direction of your life.

“…you are the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on the bus, or in the car, or at the computer,” says Anna Quindlen, author of A Short Guide to a Happy Life.

Strive to install experiences of gratitude, gladness, moderation, accomplishment, feeling successful, feeling that there’s a fullness in your life rather than an emptiness or a scarcity to live life to the fullest.

“No people can be truly happy if they do not feel that they are choosing the course of their own life,” states the World Happiness Report 2012.

The report also found that having this freedom of choice is one of the six factors that explain why some people are happier than others.


Etymologically, “sisu” (pronounced see’-soo) comes from a Finnish root word that implies “inner” or “inside.” In Finnish culture, it’s about adopting the attitude of persistence and determination.

“Sisu is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain that courage. It is a word that cannot be fully translated. It defines the Finnish people and their character. It stands for the philosophy that what must be done will be done, regardless of cost,” according to Finlandia University.

It’s often described as stoic determination, the tenacity of purpose, grit, and resilience. It’s a form of courage that is presented in situations where success is against the odds.

It’s about persevering your way through challenges.

“It is a compound of bravado and bravery, of ferocity and tenacity, of the ability to keep fighting after most people would have quit, and to fight with the will to win,” The New York Times explained in 1940.

Sisu is doing what’s necessary even when it’s difficult.

Sisu may be a Finnish word, but it’s a universal trait, says Joanna Nylund, author of Sisu: The Finnish Art Of Courage.

Closing thoughts

Life is unpredictable, but strong life philosophies can guide the way.

A great lifestyle accrues benefits over time. Take time to enjoy life’s journey.

“You cannot be really first-rate at your work if your work is all you are,” says Anna Quindlen.

Embrace and practice some of these philosophies in your everyday life and, maybe, you’ll find out why Scandinavians are ranked as the happiest people in the world!

 This article first appeared on Medium.


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