At last we come to the third and final word of our first thu’um. The significance of this word, mångata, is more difficult to grasp, and relies on our understanding of the first two words, lagom and fika. Let’s refresh our understanding of those words.
Lagom means not too little and not too much, and we apply it in our lives when we find balance and moderation in all things. We do not neglect our work or our health. We find time for friends, for family, and for ourselves. Yet we do not overdo any of these aspects, either.
Fika is s break accompanied by some kind of treat. Stepping away from whatever task holds our attention helps us find balance and perspective. Many people have figured out that they work more effectively after taking a short break, but fika is more than that. The treat reminds us that the break is not just a means to the end of being more productive. It’s a valuable and meaningful part of our day, best spent with a friend or in quiet contemplation.
Mångata, too, is best observed in quiet contemplation.
A Road of Pearls
Mångata is translated as the roadlike projection of the moon on the water. When I first learned the word, I thought it was funny that Swedish had a specific word for that. Then I thought about it more, and realized it’s funnier that we don’t. If you’ve ever seen mångata, I’m sure you knew it was something special, whether or not your native language has a word for it. When I was a child and lived near the ocean, I used to think it looked like a road made of thousands of shimmering pearls.
There is no practical reason for us to be fascinated by mångata or by similar phenomena. Searching for a meaning behind it won’t add anything to the effect. Yet it’s something most people naturally appreciate. Taking time out of your day to observe mångata won’t earn you any lasting benefit, unlike the money you would earn if you spent the evening working instead. Yet fifty years from now, which will still be meaningful to you: the beautiful sight of moonlight on water, or a little cash?
We’re so used to trying to be productive all the time that it can be hard to take a breath. You might practice lagom in your life, but if you’re like me, you’ll feel a pressure to “maximize” the free time you create by taking time away from work. Relaxation becomes its own sort of work, as you strive to not waste the time by not relaxing hard enough. After all, since this is time you could spend doing valuable work, you better relax pretty damn hard to justify this use of it.
Breaking up our work with fikas helps us practice resisting that overproductive part of ourselves, but the final, ultimate understanding of lagom only comes when we learn that the most important things in life are the things that don’t make any sense.
Besides its literal meaning, the significance of mångata is that you should appreciate the things that strike a chord within you, even when you don’t know why and you can’t justify them as something useful or practical. That’s easy enough to grasp in theory, but such an abstract concept can be difficult to actually apply in day-to-day life.
The trick is to wield these words like a shout in Skyrim. I wouldn’t recommend actually shouting them, especially in public, but you can say the words under your breath or repeat them mentally.
Before I sat down to write this, I did this very thing while taking a fika.
“Lagom. Fika. Mångata.”
Then I reflected on how I could apply those words immediately, here and now. First of all, I realized I needed to stop spending my fika planning what I was going to write in this post and just enjoy the moment. Then I started looking for anything with a mångata-like quality in my environment.
I’m writing this in a busy Starbucks attached to the building where my girlfriend works. Before I moved to Mexico, I had been to Starbucks maybe once or twice in my life, and took an irrational pride in being the only millennial writer I knew who never spent any time in the franchise. When it became the most convenient place to meet my girlfriend most days, I had to grudgingly get over that bias.
I still don’t think Starbucks serves good food or coffee and it would never be my first choice of somewhere to spend time, but this specific location has taken on special meaning for me. It’s full of memories of the time I’ve spent over the past two years, either with my girlfriend or by myself hard at work. When I take a fika here, it’s a chance to reflect on how far I’ve come and how anywhere can become special when you visit it with the right people.
Time is relative, and this is true psychologically even moreso than physically. Now that we know all three words of the Equilibrium shout, we can return to a claim I made in the first post about it: that it is equivalent to Skyrim’s Slow Time shout.
When faced with uninteresting tasks, whether tasks that are too easy or tasks we do not care about, we go on autopilot. Our brain recognizes we aren’t doing anything crucial, so it shuts down to save processing power. Not only does this make us perform less effectively, it also skews are sense of time. They entire workday becomes a blur, and your life passes you by at an alarming rate.
Meanwhile, events that are new or meaningful are handled with special care, painstakingly analyzed and recorded into your memory. Five minutes looking at a beautiful harvest moon might seem to go by slower than eight hours at work, and will certainly stick with you longer.
If you take even twenty minutes out of your workday to reflect and find a way to add real meaning to what you are doing, you can wake yourself up and slow time around you. By taking a break, you can actually increase the amount of time you spend working–relatively speaking.