Lego, Tetra-Pak, dynamites, zipper, and windmills. If you think about these, what comes to your mind?
It might not be quite evident at first but these are well-known Scandinavian symbols.
What is Scandinavia?
Scandinavia is not one country but a whole region of countries in Northern Europe that shares strong historical, cultural, and linguistic ties. It refers to three kingdoms: Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. However, it has also referred to the broader Scandinavian Peninsula which includes Finland and Iceland, rounding up the Nordic countries.
While they share some commonalities, they have equally unique and beautiful cultures with practices that could be, quite frankly, adopted by Aussies. These are wonderful concepts that could help us be better as individuals and as a society. Here are three of them:
For some, winter is a magical time of year. For others like me, it's a gloomy, cold, darkness you just have to wait out. But there's a better way to get through winter. A mindset that involves embracing the unique aspects of the winter months. Enter the Danish concept of "hygge".
Hygge, is actually a word of Norwegian origin pronounced "hoo-gah" and loosely translates to "cosiness". But while cosiness is a major piece of the puzzle, hygge is really more of an attitude or mindset. As Natalie Van Deusen, professor of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Alberta, puts it:
The best translation is coziness, but not the physical coziness that you get when you put on a sweater or cuddle up with a blanket. It's more of a state mental balance and psychological well-being.
It's a feeling many of us feel when we return home. But it doesn't have to go away when you head back to the real world. And, believe me, the Danish know what they're talking about. They have some of the longest, harshest winters, yet they're one of the happiest countries in the world.
Meaning "not too much, not too little" or "just enough", lagom ideally encompasses all parts of life, not just design or food or celebrations. Sweden is the lagom country, and as Anna Brones writes in her new 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."
Lagom isn't just about the personal. Part of how it's understood in its home country involves the greater community: How do we bring people together, and ensure that there's enough for all?
The notoriously social-minded Swedes have thought it through, and lagom is part of their answer: "Swedish culture is very much based on the good of the whole," Brones told Lifehacker. "I think the essence of lagom within Swedish culture comes very much from the ideals of community and social well-being, the idea that I don't take too much because then my community doesn't thrive."
Put another way, lagom or the idea that nobody has too much and nobody has too little gets to the heart of Sweden's social welfare state. Child care, education through university, health care and elder care are guaranteed to all citizens, evening the playing field and making sure nobody falls too far behind. These initiatives sound expensive, but it pays for itself via higher labour-force participation: more than 80 per cent of Swedish women work.
Niksen is a stress-reducing practice from the Netherlands that literally means to do nothing, or to be idle. This means "doing something without a purpose, like staring out the window, hanging out, or listening to music," Carolien Hamming, a coach at CSR Centrum, an organisation devoted to fighting stress and burnout, told Olga Mecking for Woolly Magazine.
Instead of constantly occupying your mind with what you need to do next or bouncing from one task to another, niksen is the practice of slowing it all down. As Mecking writes, it's a welcome reprieve from societal expectations about work and productivity that permeates the culture.
The cultural bias against doing nothing comes across heavily in the Dutch language. The popular proverb 'Niksen is niks,' for instance, means 'doing nothing is good for nothing.' And another popular Dutch saying, "Doe gewoon normaal," translates to "just be normal." In practice, this is a suggestion to stay busy, but not too busy; to rest, but not too much. Above all, it means don't be lazy. Be productive. Contribute.
Sound familiar? In Australia, too, we're constantly told to increase our efficiency and productivity, to work harder than everyone else, to hustle harder. "It's a word with a rather negative connotation," Hamming mentioned. "When we ask each other on Monday, 'How was your weekend,' nobody says, 'I tried to do as little as possible.' That's not sexy."
But niksen is the exact opposite of that mentality. It's the chance to "deliciously do nothing," as Mecking put it.
"Our inner voice says always, 'Do something useful,'" Hamming says. "For yourself, your family, the world ... so niksen is really hard to do."
Niksen is similar to mindfulness, a word that's been the subject of countless self-help books and articles over the past few years. But unlike mindfulness, niksen is not about staying in the moment and being conscious of your surroundings; it's about letting yourself do nothing, about letting your mind go where it will without guilt or expectation. "I think that niksen on [a] regular basis is important to stay healthy," Hamming says. "It's a form of mental resting [and] recuperation, while you're awake."
Above all, it's not laziness. As Mecking puts it, it's a "thorough enjoyment of life's pauses."
"In the wild most animals do nothing two-thirds of their time," Hamming says. "They yawn, look around, sit and wait until a little snack comes by. Therefore, niksen seems to me a natural state of being."