I remember coming across the word ‘schadenfreude’ pretty early on as it was adopted into English vernacular. Its quick embrace by English-speakers is evidence that we badly needed a more precise term to describe the emotion schadenfreude refers to. People just ‘got it’, because we’ve all felt it, at some point.
To build on that success, I now humbly suggest we adopt another word: “Jantelagen”.
I first came across the term ‘Jantelagen” during an episode of This Is Pop, a Netflix show on popular music, that examined Sweden’s extraordinary success in the music industry. The country’s best producers and songwriters have influenced decades of pop music around the world, from Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys to The Weeknd and Dua Lipa.
You would think, with this kind of success, Swedes would be shouting about it from the rooftops — but they aren’t. With the host of This Is Pop badgering one songwriter to list the famous artists he’s worked with, he finally blurts out the word “Jantelagen”, before adding “the law of Jante.”
Being a Canadian, I immediately got it — in the very same way I got schadenfreude. Jantelagen loosely translates to braggart, or show-off, something frowned upon in Canada, too, although not to the same degree.
Often times, when people at first have little and suddenly an excessive amount of something special – a lot of success, money or fame – they have the tendency to brag about it.
Swedes on the other hand remain relatively unnoticed when they reach something extraordinary. They are less prone to bragging. This is because they follow a common rule called the Jantelagen, literally translated: law of Jante. Basically it says that “You are not better than anyone else“.
I absolutely love this.
One of the songs I listened to when I was younger contained the phrase, “halfway to coal, halfway to diamond,” a reminder that anybody could end up at the top — or the bottom – quickly. It’s not that life is dependent on luck, it’s that we don’t entirely control our destiny. A bit of humility recognizes one’s good fortune, and that is usually followed by gratitude — something we all seem to lack these days.