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Q

Lagom Happiness?

Looking toward the new year and the idea of a fresh start, I've been thinking about happiness. I've been asked many times if I'm happy. I never know what to answer, although I'm pretty sure that I'm not unhappy. How do you define happiness?

A
Answer (Published 12/23/2011)

The poet Robert Frost wrote that "happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length." I think that’s a pretty fair description. Our society leads us to demand and expect perpetual happiness. Maintaining such a state of mind is impossible, and, I think, sets us up for failure and disappointment. Instead, I think we should have more realistic emotional aspirations.

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In my new book Spontaneous Happiness, I introduce readers to a foreign term that suggests a reasonable goal: lagom. Lagom (pronounced LAR-gom), is Swedish and doesn’t have an exact English equivalent. It means something like "just right," or "exactly enough." It has been called the most Swedish of Swedish words and permeates the entire culture: architecture, politics, economics, and every aspect of daily life.

Contentment, serenity, comfort, balance, and resilience, together constitute a lagom version of positive emotionality. This is your emotional safe harbor, which you can leave for bouts of blues or bliss but to which you should be able to return easily and naturally. It should be more than enough to sustain us and will not burn us out or condemn us to alternating cycles of ecstasy and despair. I believe it can be cultivated until it becomes our default emotional state. That is what I try to do in my life, and what I suggest that everyone strive for.

I advise you to beware of the endless publications, websites, television shows, seminars, religions, drugs (especially drugs) promising ceaseless bliss. The notion that a human being should be constantly happy is a uniquely modern, uniquely American, uniquely destructive idea.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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