To put it simply, Friluftsliv (pronounced free-loofts-liv) is the key to a happy life, as believed by the Norwegians. It roughly translates to “free air life”, and revolves around the idea of outdoor living involving activities like fishing, hunting, skiing, hiking in Norway’s countryside, camping as well as long expeditions for durations of nearly 2 months at times.
For some, it’s more than just an activity, it’s a lifestyle – one that is deeply ingrained in their systems. It is entwined with their culture, it’s something that they have been raised to believe. It is interactive, social, and even a breath of fresh air, for some. It’s almost like throwing your cell phones and collectively coming together to celebrate Norway’s natural splendour and its inhabitants’ appreciation of it. The whole idea lies in between an interesting pastime and a state religion.
This term was coined by Henrik Ibsen, a Norwegian writer, in the year 1859 and first appeared in a poem by him titled “Paa Viderne” (On The Heights). “…..this is Friluftsliv for my thoughts”, he said. The word “Friluftsliv” was thus first used to describe a thought, an idea about life. The cultural roots of Friluftstliv in Scandinavia comes from the self-image of Scandinavians as nature loving people. This image is partly based on the country’s scantily populated landscape, where even urban people have proximal access to nature for recreation.
It is also reflected by the unwritten law “Allemanstratten”, literally meaning “every one’s right” in Sweden and Norway, that allows everyone access to land, and even private property on certain occasions. The “back to nature” movement was romanticised and popularised in the 18th century, as a reaction against urbanisation and industrialisation which strongly influences the Scandinavian culture. Friluftsliv came to be realised and understood as a way to reunite with nature and the age old Scandinavian culture. The upper classes, back in the day, had no way to connect with nature; they weren’t hunters, fishermen or farmers, and therefore, Friluftsliv came to be recognised as a way to reconnect with nature and the old Scandinavian tradition of outdoor living.
Nature Therapy, And The Need For An Alternate Lifestyle
According to a study, spending time outside has been shown to lower the level of cortisol, a key stress hormone. It derives a soothing, comforting effect by slowing heart rate, normalising respiration, blood pressure and several other key factors causing stress. When you’re immersed in nature, it’s almost impossible to not to be in awe of the power and beauty of the natural world. By doing this, we experience something more surreal and warm.
It is in fact an experience that often compels us to shift our perspective from the ever mundane, technologically driven lives we’ve conveniently chosen to live. The breath of the trees fill our minds and lungs, the water of the ocean courses through our veins and the electricity of a lightning storm flashes through our brains with each passing thought – constantly reminding us of the never ceasing association of our body, mind, spirit and the environment. There’s a serious need for an alternate switch up or going back to believing that nature can play a profound role in helping us heal our mind and body while uniting us with our true identity as spiritual beings.
What Do We Know And What Have We Learnt?
Research says, Friluftsliv contributes to having major positive effects on an individual’s mental health (Carolyn de Lorenzo, 2018). With rising mental health illnesses worldwide, research suggests that the cause could be due to our rapidly increasing disconnect and loss of access to nature, as a result of urbanisation, the subsequent lifestyle. The UN’s 2020 Worldwide Happiness Report placed Norway at the number 5 spot amongst the world’s happiest places- Bergen and Oslo made the top 10 in the world’s happiest cities and this is mainly because Friluftsliv, amongst other reasons, is an integral part of the Norwegian culture. Studies suggest that it plays an essential role in maintaining a healthy state of mind.
It is believed that Norwegians have a strong ability for self-evaluating their well being and they handle changes very well, that can otherwise have a negative impact on an individual’s mental health (Helliwell, Layard, Sachs and De Neve, 2020). The World Happiness Report states in its findings that Nordic citizens top the list in nearly all categories of wellness and mental health and that the explanation lies in the quality of life they lead. Other factors include quality of institutions, reliable and extensive welfare benefits, a stable democratic government, low corruption etc,. Norwegian people also lead their lives with a sense of autonomy and freedom as well as high levels of trust on social structures.
In conclusion, we know we can learn a thing or ten from the Norwegians before the relentless, everyday grind consumes us entirely. Let’s make an effort to understand the fundamental significance of mental satisfaction and good mental health.