How the Concept of Norwegian “Friluftsliv” Can Save Your Life

A Frog in the Fjord: One Year in Norway Book

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.

4 thoughts on “How the Concept of Norwegian “Friluftsliv” Can Save Your Life


    Hi, this is a bit overwhelming I think.
    Friluftsliv might be simply putting on your sneakers or rubber boots, leaving your house or holiday retreat and picking the nearest path that leads away from car traffic and pedestrians to the nearest spot of wilderness.
    You WALK or ski, sometimes with someone or with your dog, sometimes alone, and you might bring coffee, a chocolate or a snack.
    Climbing a hill to get a view, have a dip in a nearby water, picking what you find interesting or beautiful like Tussilago farfara, Hepatica nobilis, Salix, mushrooms, berries, crooked branches or stones.
    You might meet a friendly dog, a talkative person, an old friend or nobody at all and that´s ok.
    You migth come up with something you forgot, a splendid idea or nothing.
    You might find somebodys lost mitten and hang it on a branch on a tree to be found.
    You feel nature´s scent and raindrops or snowflakes, and you get unlimited thoughts and messy hair in the wind.
    You get tuned into nature as you listen to birds, discover the local flora and fauna end experience the seasonal changes .
    You have to pay attention and remember your way back home even when you get distracted.
    As a result your turbo is disconnected and you return home in a state of calm..

  2. I am so grateful to have had a Norwegian grandmother (and all of her family) as a strong influence in my life. There is a strong love of the outdoors here in the US as well but one has to be aware of some people’s tendency to make it yet another competitive venture. “I am more outdoorsy than you.” I think that is what you meant with all the social media photos with people trying to out-do one another. I love that my grandmother instilled in me a love of being outdoors whether you were doing anything or not and doing every day things outdoors – eating meals, reading, visiting with friends, bathing (!) Like the comment above, I think of friluftsliv as just living with Nature which can include recreational activities but is not limited to recreation as you sometimes see. It can be as simple as living in a house with lots of windows and with porches so that the indoors and outdoors have blurry boundaries. It is just knowing that the outdoors holds most of the answers you need. Thank you for the discussion and the TED Talk!

  3. I watched your TEDTalk today and I agree with you, getting out in nature can be really good for you, both during regular times and especially trying times, such as when you’re told to stay at home due to corona.

    I don’t know how people from other cultures feel, but when we Norwegians go on hikes, we feel a kind of disconnect from everyday life, in a good way, like we’ve left all our worries and responsibilities behind in the city and we can just unwind and be in the moment. The fresh air always feels good, and the physical activity that the hike itself is does us good, too. We often even consider it a good thing if we don’t meet other people along the way :p .

    I’ve been told that hiking for its own sake – what foreigners call “walking up a mountain just to walk back down” – is a pretty Scandinavian thing, but we can’t be the only ones doing it :p . But either way, yes, it can definitely do you good!

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