The Norwegian concept of Friluftsliv is the new Scandinavian concept that reached international news, after Danish hygge and Swedish lagom. In 2018 I held a TEDx Talk explaining what it is and why you need it in your life. Two years later, we are in the middle of the Corona crisis and friluftsliv is even more needed for people all around the world and especially Europe to tackle this harsh winter coming along, lack of social life, lockdown and more.
Friluftsliv is a Norwegian word, or should I say a concept, and if you break it down it is made of three words: “Fri” means free, “luft” is air and “liv” means life. The life in fresh air, or in English “an outdoorsy life”. But actually the term is very difficult to translate, maybe impossible, since it includes much more than just being outdoorsy. It is about reconnecting with nature and enjoying an outdoor lifestyle is still part of the Norwegian soul despite their very modern lifestyle.
The word was first published by Henrik Ibsen, the famous playwright, in a poem in 1859 called På vidderne. But friluftsliv has been in the Norwegian society for over 5000 years. In Norway Friluftsliv even has its own law, called in English “the Outdoor Recreation Act”, which includes the allemannsrett, or in English the freedom to roam. It allows anyone, yes, even foreigners, to pick mushrooms and berries, sleep in nature and even in some cases on private property, among other things. In Norway, fences in nature make for unhappy neighbours.
- A simple life in nature
I remember my best friend in Paris telling me she had seen a short documentary about Norwegian girlfriends who finally had an evening free without their kids, and they had decided to go sleep in hammocks in the forest for a night. “I would have gone to a spa!” said my friend. “Don’t ever do that to me when I come and visit!” she added. The Norwegian concept of Friluftsliv is a philosophy of outdoor life and involves a simple life in nature. It is harmony with nature without destroying or disturbing it. It encourages you to seek a connection with nature which goes beyond expensive outdoor gear or selfies on the top of a mountain like those guys up there.
Originally, friluftsliv does not require you to hike a glacier (although some Norwegians do that for fun on a Saturday morning) or to have mad skills to survive in nature (although many Norwegians do have those too). Instead It can include anything from taking Sunday hikes in the woods with your family, to skiing from cabin to cabin for a week with friends, to ice fishing with your grandfather. In Norway it is important to practice friluftsliv from childhood. Norwegian parents like to put their children in frilufts kindergartens which ensure that their kids will be spending minimum 80% of their time playing outside no matter the weather. But what about when it rains or snows? No problem, it is what Norwegians call “Enjoying bad weather in good clothing”.
- Friluftsliv is great for your mental health
How can this help you right now? Friluftsliv can be practiced alone or with friends or family. If your country is applying strict social distancing rules you might want to go to your nearest nature spot. A river, a forest, a lake, a mountain, a field. Leave your phone at home or on airplane mode. You would be surprised how much you get out of being in nature without thinking of anything. You don’t need to be successful, beautiful or strong to enjoy nature. So leave expectations at home and just think of nothing 🙂 Friluftsliv can be seen as a form of stress reliever or even meditation, and I believe Norwegians also use it as anger management. What is better to relieve tension than ski 40 km alone or bike around a lake while talking to nobody? Not much.
According to Lasse Heimdal, the Secretary General of Norwegian friluftsliv, “…nature can have a healing effect on stress and worried thoughts. Many of the people I meet, whether they are politicians or schoolchildren, say they feel that they have to go to nature to “recharge the batteries.” As many as 489 reports also show that being in nature made the participants in the different studies less stressed, regardless of whether they took a walk or if they just sat and relaxed outside in the open air.
- Friluftsliv gives you a better work life balance
Two weeks into a new job, I was working late to prove my commitment, and the CEO finds me at 6pm at my desk. “What are you doing here? The weather is great outside, the snow is fresh and the sun is out. Go out and have a life”.
I was being told to go have fun, by my boss. Never in my life has the happened, but he knew what I did not – that work life balance is key for happier and relaxed… and more effective because you know you’ll be leaving to go enjoy that personal time. If you are working from home, you might want to take that time outside on a daily basis. Getting a bit of sunlight during the European winter is needed to get vitamin D and decrease Seasonal affective disorder (More tips here on how to survive you winter depression).
You might think that your boss would never let you leave at 2pm to go in the wild and give you a high five for that. What if you are a boss? I think you should consider giving time off to your employees and see the benefits of having healthier less stressed employees. If you are an employee, encourage your colleagues when they take time off with their families.
Friluftsliv is not about competition, and it is not even about doing an activity necessarily. Friluftsliv does not require that much money either, it is free most of the times. Hiking shoes and a water bottle can often be enough to get off the grid and simple disconnect from everything but the moment. During these difficult times, this might be exactly what we need more of.