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Host Garrison Keillor answers your questions about life, love, writing, authors, and of course, A Prairie Home Companion.

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September 6, 2007 | 17 Comments

Post to the Host:
Garrison, On one of your recent previews to a show, you mentioned the Scandinavian principle of "good enough." I have been trying since to find it on your web site and read more about it. Alas, the closest the PHC search can find is the "godt nok. Good enough." line at the end of the July issue of The Ballast! Google is no better. It seems that this is an elusive principle at best. Can you point me in the right direction? That would be good enough.



The Good Enough principle is so common that Google can't find it, I guess, but basically it is a belief in mediocrity and an antidote to envy. Nobody is better than anybody else, superiority is mostly an illusion, so don't think you're a big shot because you're not. We're all about the same when you come right down to it. Don't look back with regret — your life was good enough. Your parents were good enough, so was your school, so is your job. So quit belly-aching. Don't sweat it. Good Enough may seem like faint praise, but some things really are good enough. Don't make a big deal over it. Don't try to make it the best that ever was or could be. It's good enough. And that's good enough.


"Good enough" and the Swedish "lagom" seem to correlate. "Lagom" means "just right" or "just enough" or "just the right amount."
I don't speak Norwegiaan but I imagine that "lagom" exists in that language as well.

My mother tongue is Danish, and I have never thought of 'good enough' as a 'principle' epitomizing the otherwise well-known basic egalitarian (rather than elitarian) sentiments of most Scandinavians. Better known, to Danes at least, would be the line by 19th century poet and educator N.F.S. Grundtvig, that 'much would then have been accomplished, when few have too much and even fewer too little'.

One common use of 'godt nok' in Danish is actually in the negative form, like in 'godt er bare ikke godt nok' (to be good just isn't good enough), but most often 'godt nok' is used - in distinct lower style and in certain dialects - to express emphasis, sometimes surprise, like in 'det var godt nok slemt', which would be 'for sure' in 'that was bad, for sure'. A third and likewise very common and lower style use would be 'Godt nok!', issued as a simple implicitly affirmative receipt when hearing a statement. The equivalent in English would be 'OK' or 'All right' or 'Fine' or whatever. It hardly amounts to a principle.

Thanks for a great show, a reliable survival kit in the desert of bigotry.

Having been reared with the "good better best, never let it rest" motto, I am trying hard to adopt "lagom". What peace it brings!

The "good enough" story reminds me a speaker who talked about a time he was in a university cafeteria and became overwhelmed with the insight that everyone he looked at was equal and no one was better than any one else. Then he thought: because I've had that insight, that makes me just a little bit better than these other people. Is it human nature to think we're better than others?

Garrison's explication is wonderful, of a piece with Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery. But the pediatrician and psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott had a more positive definition of the term, in the "good enough mother," a central tenet of his theories of childhood development. Wikipedia has a very thorough and accurate description of the theory, and I found it very comforting as I realized I would never meet all my children's expectations: it was a good thing not to!
Thanks, Garrison, for all the good you do in the world, including provoking good-natured and humorous discussion to help counter despair about so much of what is happening in the world.

Certainly Ulla taught GK a thing or two about Janteloven?? It's googleable. Venlig hilsen.

I agree....Good Enough is OKAY with me! It takes the pressure off many times!
OK...A question...
Where are the lyrics to Becky Schlegel's rendition of Lake Wobegon sung on the September 1, show the Minnesota State Fair...It was so beautiful...I've searched on the program for last week's show...Every other song is listed , except Becky's song of Lake Wobegon...Would love to print up the words, as I did with Oh Minnesota (Oh Shenandoah)...That was clever and wonderful also, ..>Thank you Garrison, for the great words you write for those old songs...
OK...please let me know where I can find Becky's words which went to the melody of "Going Home"..(New World Symphony)..
Appreciate it...
I'm at

Christine (Tina) Scherr
Fort Collins, CO>

I appreciate the analysis from others about the meaning of "Good Enough" in Scandinavian language and culture. I fear they have missed the point entirely, however.

To me, the Keillorian concept of "Good Enough" can only be understood properly when you've had endless cups of coffee at the Chatterbox Cafe or or spent years having a beer and a bump after work at the Sidetrack Tap.

The concept of "Good Enough" certainly isn't for purists, whether they are from Scandinavia or elsewhere. It could be that the idea of "Good Enough" is a Scandinavian principle as understood and experienced only by the fine citizens of Lake Wobegon. If that's true, that's good enough.

My Norwegian tongue can clarify this. The term " Godt nok" is Norwegian, and the hosts explanation is very precise. In Denmark it may be a bit different, but not much. The danish author Axel Sandemose wrote Janteloven, The Law of Jante. It's ten commandments, and the first says: "Du skal ikke tro du er noe", "You shall not believe that you are somebody" or "Don't think you're a big shot because you're not". The difference may be that this piece is meant to be negative. A good Norwegian don't agree. Needless to say, being a artist i Norway is not easy. A good Norwegian will not hug his friends unless he is dying. In fact, if you act sentimental or self consciously, you will be laughed at. Mockery creates trust among good friends in Norway. We will not talk to strangers or confront anybody in public. It's very sane, fascinating and quite boring.

I hope my English is good enough to make an understandable point. I feel like I'm ten years old every time I have to write. Here's some strange letters for you .

While doing research on the effects of hops and grains in correlation to male bonding, I ran across another version of Good Enough. Back along a two track in "DA U.P." ( Michigans Upper Penninsula) I observed above the doorway of a rather modest abode (shack) a sign "GOOD-E-NUFF"
There sat a wood stove in the corner with a nice stack nearby, a pitcher pump by the sink, and a couple of bunks tucked in the corner. Altough there is a resort nearby with hot tub, cable, tourist etc... I got the meaning of Good Enough.
The camp (as their called in these parts) is owned by a person of Finnish Descent (Finlander). so this may be the origin for research sake. but as I was told when I landed here 23 some odd years ago, "you can always tell a Finn,You just can't tell em much".

I read the answer to this question and could hear my Norwegian grandmother saying the same phrase, "good enough". She passed away almost two years ago and I although I've thought about things she did and the stories she told I haven't thought about the things she used to say until just now. She would say it when we finished cleaning the kitchen and even when we ended a phone call, her in Minnesota and me in California, it was "good enough". Thanks for the sweet memory! When all is said and done it isand we are good enough.

Even though I'm a native Kansan without any Scandinavian roots that I'm aware of, I've subscribed to the "good enough" theory for most of my life. When people I meet ask me, "How are you?", my stock response is not "Fine," but "Good enough."

Scandanavians are clearly leaders in the concept of "good enough" (which might be best expressed as "merely good enough is ... just fine"). In fact, the closer others get to achieving "good enough", the harder the Scandanavians work to maintain their # 1 position.
Good (enough) for them!

My great grandmother was a skilled midwife in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. She was known for turning a breech positioned baby in the womb so that it could
enter the world more easily.The inscription on her grave simply reads: "She hath done what she could". I've been thinking that the same could be said of each one of us. While she was able to help countless Moms and babes,many times traveling through the dark of night, those left behind seemed to feel that what she did was simply "good enough".

Having grown up in Michigan -- which some suggest is neither the Midwest or the Northeast -- I learned about "good enough" early on. My family was not Scandanavian. To me, it is more of a ruralism. At least that is where I learned it. Today, when asked how I am, I often reply, "Good enough," which usually brings a laugh ... but I truly mean it.

Somewhere in the middle of NW Wisconsin, on an old country road, is my favorite cabin sign. It's in front of basically a little shack on the shore of a pretty, pine tree encircled tiny lake: "Goodie Nuff". Now there are some folks who have captured the joy of a retreat more succinctly and beautifully than most...

I enjoyed reading the comments and wanted to pass along a phrase a friend gave me which I try to remember when I'm beating myself up for not being enough or doing enough: "Perfect is the enemy of Good."

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