Swedish word of the day: livspussel

Swedish word of the day: livspussel
Our word of the day is a particularly hot topic in Sweden. Image: nito103/Depositphotos
The Swedish culture places huge emphasis on maintaining work-life balance, but as most people know, in reality it's not always easy as it sounds on paper. That's where Wednesday's word of the day comes in.

Livspussel is a noun that sums up the complexities of being human. It roughly translates as 'the puzzle of life', from the two words ett liv (life) and ett pussel (a puzzle) and usually refers to the challenge of balancing work, family, and personal commitments. 

It's often used in the fixed expression att få ihop livspusslet (to put the puzzle of life together). English uses the term 'work-life balance' in this context, so a translation of the above phrase might be 'to achieve a good work-life balance' but the term livspusslet has a slightly different feel for two reasons.

First, it doesn't divide life's components into 'work' and 'not work', which acknowledges the reality that individuals might be balancing multiple different commitments such as family, friendships, sport and other hobbies, with none singled out as having priority. Secondly, the focus on working through the puzzle rather than achieving a perfect balance seems to more readily acknowledge that for many people this is a constant challenge.

Several other European languages have similar terms, including French (le puzzle de la vie), but these tend to refer to more philosophical contexts relating to the meaning of life. And did you know that the word 'puzzle' is a puzzle in itself? The English term (from which the Swedish variant came later) first appeared in the 16th century, but linguists are unsure of its origins.

'Livspusslet' been a huge topic of debate in previous Swedish elections, with politicians presenting policies such as extended parental leave and flexible working as possible solutions to the puzzle. In fact, it was trademarked by the trade union group TCO before the 2002 election as a way to draw attention to workers' needs. The word then entered the Swedish Language Council's annual list of new words in 2007, but it has actually been recorded since the 1980s.


Hur får du ihop livspusslet?

How do you get the pieces of your life to fit together? (Literally: How do you get the puzzle of life together?)

Han tröttnade på det ständiga livspusslet 

He got tired of the constant challenge of balancing different parts of life

Do you have a favourite Swedish word you'd like to nominate for our word of the day series? Get in touch by email or if you are a Member of The Local, log in to comment below.

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