Jantelagen: Why You Should Adopt the Swedish “Law” of Modesty

By Krista

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Last Updated: May 20, 2022

If “modesty” is something you last thought of when your mother told you that you couldn’t go out in that outfit, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do. 

Particularly in the Western world, you’ll notice a serious spirit of competition. Ambition is rewarded and encouraged, and we are extremely proud of what we achieve. Modesty, on the other hand, is actively discouraged. 

Keeping up with the Joneses is a major occupation for many of us.

Do the neighbors have a new car? Better upgrade yours before anyone notices.

Your colleague is buying a huge new house? You’d better hurry and get a mortgage.

It’s all about looks, and we all want to look good. If you want other people to be impressed, you’d better have something to show and tell.

Is this going to make us happy? Is it making you happy? 

An unwritten law in Swedish culture promotes the exact opposite lifestyle to the “show and tell” mentality. This “law” is the law of Jante or Jantelagen, and this is the law of modesty. 

So, do you need to be more modest in your everyday life? Should you be more modest? Let’s find out. 

 

 

Where Did the Jante Law Come From?

The Law of Jante was originally created in fiction by a Danish-Norwegian author, Aksel Sandemose. While it’s a fictional “law,” Jantelagen has become embedded in Scandinavian culture as an attitude and a colloquial term. 

In modern times, Jantelagen refers to an attitude of modesty, including the avoidance of personal ambition. It’s known as Jantelagen in Swedish, Jantelögin in Icelandic, Janteloven in Danish and Norwegian, and Jante laki in Finnish.

 

 

What Does Jantelagen Mean? 

There are ten rules of Jantelagen, and all of them mean the same thing: don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. When it comes to using Jantelagen in everyday life, it simply means don’t brag.

Believe that others are better than you, and focus on collective achievements rather than individual brilliance.

The Western world quietly (or not so quietly, in some cases) rewards ruthless ambition. Famous or rich people tend to show off their wealth and achievements.

Some successful business people are almost proud of how many toes they’ve stepped on and how many of their so-called friends they’ve kicked back down the ladder of success in order to further their own progress. 

This behavior and this sort of bragging are not welcomed in Swedish culture. Bragging about how much money you make, the holidays you’ve gone on, or the new car you’ve just bought isn’t going to be well received. In fact, your colleague who earns more than you will likely not show off at all. 

Related Article: 11 Ways to Help You Start Building Your Self-Esteem

 

 

What Are Examples of Modesty? 

So, if you’re planning to be more modest in your life, where can you start? We’ve got a few ideas…

Be Modest About Your Accomplishments

The obvious place to start is to keep quiet about your own accomplishments. Wait for other people to ask about your fabulous holiday, rather than telling them without being asked. Don’t brag about a promotion or a new expensive purchase. In other words, be humble!

Since Jantelagen works alongside modern attitudes and the global market, it has been watered down to an extent. Individual achievements are pretty much unavoidable⁠—and most people don’t want to avoid them. However, the Law of Jante indicates that we should avoid boasting about our accomplishments.  

 

Avoid Self-Pity

If you’re ill or in pain or suffering, why should you think that you’re suffering more than anyone else? Self-pity can be quite indulgent and usually means that we’re focusing more on how we feel about our circumstances rather than our actual circumstances.

This means that some people suffering from illnesses may need to do a full mental shift, as a lot of Western ideology focuses a lot on the individual to the exclusion of all else. 

 

Value Community Accomplishments

Since capitalism tends to reward individuals rather than groups, most people work to be the recognized ones in a group, even if that means other people’s accomplishments are overlooked.

However, following Jante Law means that we should focus more on community achievements rather than our own personal achievements.

This might involve swallowing our pride and allowing ourselves to melt into the background or letting others take credit for work that we were involved in. Or we might simply attribute our own success to the incredible people around us.

After all, we didn’t become who we are without others shaping and inspiring us.

 

Don’t Live A Showy Life

Focus more on the quality and happiness of your life rather than the showy aspect. If you roll up to your new job with a fantastic brand new car that costs more than a house, you will get a lot of side-eye and no congratulations. 

There’s nothing wrong with having nice things, but is your focus on having nicer things than anyone else? It shouldn’t be! Again, be humble. Focus not on material goods but rather the vibe of the room you’re in.

 

Be Realistic About Your Place In The World

One of the rules of Jante state: Don’t think that you’re anything special. The other rules are all various versions of, “Don’t think you’re better than anyone else.” Interestingly, this concept is echoed in many religious texts, including the Bible. 

This really goes against the grain of Western ideology, which tells us that we’re cleverer and stronger and just better than everyone else in the room—and now we need to prove it. In many ways, it’s that whole “special snowflake” concept. 

If you’re trending this way, it can help to gain some perspective. There are over seven billion people in the world. You matter, but so does everyone else, just as much!

Related Article: Top 25 Positive Affirmations To Start Your Week Off Right

 

 

Should You Use Jante Law in Your Life?

As you can imagine, applying Jantelagen is not well-received in capitalist countries. Capitalism rewards individual brilliance and punishes those who fall behind or who aren’t willing to put themselves and their achievements forward. There’s no denying that using Jantelagen might not help your promotion opportunities. 

But will it make you happier?

Scandinavian countries consistently rank in the top tiers in World Happiness reports. Of course, this can be due to other factors, such as low unemployment rates, affordable healthcare, good housing, and so on. 

However, Jantelagen is also a very popular social standard, deeply ingrained in the culture. Could it be that modesty—believing others to be superior to you—is something that can make you happier? 

There’s only one way to find out. Try it. How much can your perspective change?

Read Next: How to Be Happy On Your Own

Photo by Archie Binamira

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3 comments on “Jantelagen: Why You Should Adopt the Swedish “Law” of Modesty”

  1. I made it a daily habit to read the Daily Motivation emails. And honestly I notice how it helps me personally. So thanks you for all the messages. They are amazing. Sometimes I don't agree with everything, but still I take the lessons in the msg with me.

  2. This particular piece is very eye opening and gives a different perspective to life in the face of the reigning ruthless ambition. In Africa I could equate it to the Ubuntu spirit, an attitude that looks out for other human beings always

    1. That's beautiful Hilda! Maybe we'll write an article on the Ubuntu spirit as well - we have so much to learn from cultures around the world 🙂

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