Move Over, Hygge – Make Way for Friluftsliv

By Amanda Ellison

We're all familiar with some of Scandinavia's most famous exports: Abba, The Killing, Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, Bjorn Borg, IKEA, A-ha ...


Some of us have even bought into the Danish Hygge lifestyle. Something about the simplicity and practicality of Scandinavian living strikes a chord in us Brits. But are we familiar with friluftsliv?


It's been around for a few years now - and for a whole lot longer in the Nordic nations - but friluftsliv is still a relative unknown here in the UK.


Now is the perfect time for that to change: whether you're looking a New Year's resolution or a new way to address mental or physical wellbeing, friluftsliv offers a healthier way of life. 


Want to know more? This short article explains the benefits.

The Scandinavians love conceptualised living. First we embraced the candles, blankets and hot chocolate of the hygge lifestyle of the Danes, then bought into lagom, the Scandi term for seeking a work-life balance. Given that the Scandinavian nations are repeatedly perceived as the happiest on the planet (in 2020 Norway was ranked number five in the UN’s World Happiness Report), it’s little wonder that we look to them for inspiration.


Now meet the new kid on the block: friluftsliv (pronounced free-luftz-leev), literally translated as ‘open-air-living’. This is nothing new to the Scandinavians. The term might be fairly novel to us, but as far back as 1859 Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen first mentioned friluftsliv in his poem, ‘On the Heights’, which culminates in one of its characters eschewing civilisation for good. From this, the etymology of the word can be understood to have its roots in Romanticism and in fact has been described in a study by Nils Faarlund, Boerge Dahle and Aarge Jensen as 'the legitimate child of European Romanticism'. This makes absolute sense: in the nineteenth century figures like Rousseau and Goethe sought inspiration from nature as a form of pushback against the man-centric developments of the scientific era now known as The Age of Enlightenment. Indeed, William Wordsworth lamented that '[t]he world is too much with us' and that the true power of nature has become obfuscated by worldly concerns, environmental connectedness on the wane. Sound familiar? The pressing issues of the time apply more than ever in the modern world, making the concept of friluftsliv perennially relevant.


Today, roughly a third of Swedes engage in some sort of outdoor activity at least once a week, according to Statistics Sweden, while over half have access to summer homes in the countryside or by the coast. And the Norwegians even have a law – the Outdoors Recreation Act – that entitles anyone right of access to the land for recreational activities ranging from camping to canoeing, without fear of breaking any trespassing laws. The only caveat is that respect for nature is observed and the land is left as it was found.


Friluftsliv is used broadly in Scandinavia to refer to anything outdoorsy, from the most hard-core of activities to simple ones like walking the dog, taking a bike ride, or going on a picnic. Even drinking a beer out of doors in Norway merits its own word: utepils. While a passion for the outdoors may seem somewhat strange for a region known for its chilly climate, a love of nature is something that is instilled from childhood. Swedish psychologist Niels Eék is cited as having said of this phenomenon: ‘There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes’.


The benefits of the great outdoors on health are widely documented, and often seen as an antidote to conditions such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). And we are constantly reminded that coronavirus transmits less easily outdoors, making this the perfect time for us Brits to embrace friluftsliv. Moreover, there are benefits to our mental health too. Educational charity The Ernest Cook Trust has joined forces with outdoor learning centres across the UK in response to the adverse impacts the pandemic has had on young people, on the premise that connecting with nature has a positive effect on well-being. Dr Victoria Edwards, Chief Executive of the Trust, has said: ‘We will be measuring the impact on the children, to ensure it has long-lasting effects. For example, we will look at nature connectedness, which is how much more the children feel connected to nature as a result’.


As 2022 beckons – and with the threat of the pandemic going nowhere – it seems fitting that we should embrace the great outdoors, and safeguard both our physical and mental health in the process.

So move over, Hygge, and let friluftsliv have its day in the sun - or rain: this is, after all, the UK ...