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5 Life Philosophies I’ve Brought With Me From Scandinavia to The United States



I love having two places to call home; an adorable small town in the Northeast in The United States, and a coastal town in Norway where I grew up and where most of my family still live. Although I moved away, it still feels like home to me. It’s nostalgic.

Having experienced two very different cultures, I am allowing myself to pick and choose the best of both worlds. Values, life philosophies, food and health habits, you name it. I did not grow up with palm trees but the featured photo stuck out to me because there’s a sense of contentment to it.

When it comes to Scandinavian life philosophies, you get a little bit of everything. Some of which I’ve ditched once I moved overseas, but there are some I am keeping close to my heart. This article is about those.

Oh, well

Danes have a word that helps them deal with stress: Pyt. In Norwegian, we say pytt. Or, “it is what it is”.

The word doesn’t have a good English translation (oh, well is the closest one I’ve got), but it is a word that describes the art of being able to accept situations that are beyond your control, no matter how frustrating they may be. Rather than looking for someone to blame or overreacting about small things, they leave it as what it is, and simply say: pyt, or pytt.

Oh, well.

The happiness of work

Yes, it exists.

Scandinavians put great effort into enjoying their work. The Global Workforce Happiness Index by Universum shows that Denmark and Norway top the list when it comes to happiness at work. There’s also a word for it; arbeidsglede in Norwegian, arbejdsglæde in Danish.

The best way to translate it would be the happiness, or even the joy, of work. It’s about feeling good about the job you’re doing and being happy to go to work.

The reason I became a journalist a little over a decade ago was not for the salary, because, the pay isn’t that great. If I were to choose a career that would allow me to never worry about money, it would be something within finance or tech. I didn’t enjoy math in school. And I am not very tech-savvy. I chose journalism because I enjoy writing and I enjoy the visual aspect of it; photojournalism.

One of my first roles as an adult was as a journalist for a local newspaper in my hometown. My co-worker, a woman in her 40s, had been working there since she graduated from college. She told me she was excited to go to work every single day. There had never been a day where she dreaded work. Not one day. What she loved the most about the profession was the fact that she got to interact with people and that each day, each story was different.

I remember thinking “I want that”.

Hygge, not the candles

The deeper aspect of it.

The Danish word hygge tends to be misunderstood and has become overly commercialized. It’s not just about candles and cozy things. It’s about feeling content.

It’s about where you’re in the moment and you feel like you’re right where you’re supposed to be. You take time to just be.

Whether you’re in a living room filled with candles and cozy blankets or you’re enjoying a summer night with friends and a glass of something on your deck. Hygge is all about feeling totally relaxed, where you are able to let go of the hectic world around you for just a few moments.

The great outdoors

I am not going to bore you too much with this one other than saying Scandinavians thrive outside. I’ve covered this before; They love being out in nature, especially hiking or going on long walks. Together or alone, doesn’t matter, as long as you’re outside.

There’s also a name for it; friluftsliv. The name was invented by the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen in the 1850s, who used the term to describe the value of spending time in remote locations for spiritual and physical wellbeing. The best translation Google came up with was outdoor life.

The health benefits are obvious and I try to spend time outdoors every day. Sometimes, it’s just in our yard and sometimes, it’s a walk up to our community park. It’s not very remote and there aren’t too many mountains to hike where I live, but it’s outside so I’ll take it.

Not too much, not too little

There’s beauty in moderation, in just enough.

In Scandinavia, there’s an overall focus on a balance that it’s not as easy to find in the United States. In Scandinavia, this balance is mainstream and most people are in on it: when you’re going out to eat, you will get a normal-sized portion. It’s not too much, it’s not too little. Homes are not McMansions because it’s just too much.

In the United States, you have to make an individual choice to have somewhat of a balance to things because there’s so much excess in plain sight.

The Swedes have their own word for it; lagom. It can be translated into “not too much, not too little”, “just the right amount”, or “in balance”. It’s about grasping the positive in every situation, being able to learn from experiences, good and bad, and aiming to live in harmony with the world, both from an environmental as well as from a social aspect. These simple words, life philosophies if you will, focus on a healthy lifestyle, from the inside and out. From your personal life to your professional life. It’s an opposition to that daily grind, the go-go-go culture.

It’s about not taking yourself too seriously. It’s celebrating a life with less pressure and more time to do what you actually enjoy, and that’s exactly why I’m keeping them close to my heart.


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