Outdoor Living Norwegian Style
Wondering how you’ll survive a Covid winter? One way to beat the pandemic blues is to embrace the Norwegian concept of “friluftsliv”. It literally means “free air life”. Friluftsliv (pronounced free-loofts-leev) is outdoor living in nature in all weathers.
What is friluftsliv?
Generally, the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen is given the credit for coining the term published in his poem “On the Heights” in 1859. The poem tells the story of a farmer’s year long trek through the wilderness. By the end of the poem, the farmer decides to live in the wild for good.
Friluftsliv isn’t just for intrepid explorers or extreme athletes. It’s time out in nature, a digital detox, a chance to slow down, relax and reconnect. Winter picnics, walking the dog on a frosty morning, or leisurely strolls with friends count as friluftsliv.
Opportunity of the Season
Just like “hygge” set the mood for comfort and cosiness, friluftsliv urges us to switch to a positive winter mindset and get outdoors.
With so much uncertainty, this winter could easily be one of discontent as James Melville writes in the Huffington Post:
“Let’s walk together, maximise the opportunities for outdoor socialising, create winter gardens, visit outdoor cafes and pubs with heaters and rugs, drink warm cider and mulled wine. Let’s try and use the winter season to turn this mess on its head with some positive intent.”
Melville refuses to be disheartened or beaten by the virus. His rally cry is to pull on your muddy boots and find contentment in looking windswept and interesting.
A Way of Life
From a very young age Norwegians are taught, “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”. The British weather can be irksome, but our Norwegian cousins don’t have it easy. Even in summer the rain drenches the land and up in the north the polar nights are particularly unforgiving.
It’s about seeing the opportunity of the season. The freedom to roam is enshrined in Norwegian law. Allemannsretten (meaning “everyman’s right”) allows everyone to roam free on uncultivated, privately owned land in Norway. This goes to show how outdoor living is such an essential part of Norway’s identity. Everyone is free to enjoy the great outdoors and breathe in as much fresh air as they wish! The only “catch” is that they must pick up your rubbish and show respect for nature.
Lorelou Dejardins writes a blog called “A Frog in the Fjord”. She was born in France but fell in love with Norway and its culture. Her TEDx talk on the subject of Norwegian friluftsliv explores how a love of nature brings out the best in people. She explains how, from dating to striking a healthy work life balance, outdoor recreation is key to happiness.
The Secret of Happiness
In the UN’s 2020 World Happiness Report Norway ranks at number 5 in the world. The UK comes in at 15th out of 156. Friluftsliv may go some way to explaining Norway’s cheerful outlook.
Norwegians and experts alike have long known that being outdoors makes you happy. A paper published in 2019 found just two hours a week in natural environments such as parks and green spaces boosts well-being.
Moreover, Jen Rose Smith explains friluftsliv can help heal the trauma caused by the current crisis in the National Geographic:
“For those left traumatised by COVID-19, a little bit of friluftsliv could be an effective prescription. Military veterans dealing with PTSD have found relief in nature-assisted therapies that range from gardening to white-water rafting. Some therapies addressing bereavement and loss also look for relief in the natural world.”
By immersing ourselves in nature our senses recalibrate. We can lose ourselves in the moment.
Led by the Science
Science is now proving what intuitively we’ve always known: nature makes us healthier, happier and smarter.
Too much time spent indoors has left us with a raft of public health problems ranging from obesity to pervasive near-sightedness. Now scientists are re-examining what affect nature has on our brains and bodies.
Using the latest scientific advances, they’ve begun to make the connections that have been all too obvious to Norwegians for over 5000 years. Tracking everything from brain waves to protein markers the evidence suggests when we spend time in green space something miraculous is going on.
Several studies around the world have proved that if you live closer to green space you are less stressed, depressed or anxious. A Canadian study in 2015 found residents living in blocks with more trees showed a boost in heart and metabolic health equivalent to what you’d experience if you were given a raise of $20,000.
You don’t even have to live off the grid to feel good being out in nature. Even stepping out in your back garden provides health and psychological benefits.
In the introduction to Oliver Luke Delorie’s new book Friluftsliv: Connect With Nature the Norwegian Way, he encourages us to start small:
“Open the door, step outside, and take a deep breath,”
Delorie suggests looking to the wintry weather as a way to connect with the world around you.
Playing by the rules
We all know we’re safer outdoors (where the virus transmits less easily) but the idea of taking get togethers outdoors in the biting wind and driving rain sends chills down the spine.
Covid restrictions don’t have to mean the choice between risking infection at indoor gatherings or facing a winter of discontent alone. An open sided garden building can make outdoor living in the colder months more convivial. Find nature and some social distanced fun close to home on the porch, deck or veranda of a garden building or in a Breeze House (as shown in image) and start friluftsliving your best life.