Let’s face it. The weather at this time of year is rubbish. Most of us spend the winter months huddled indoors. But are we missing a trick? Ask any Norwegian and they’d answer with a resounding ‘yes’.
There’s something special about the Scandinavian way of life. By all accounts they’re unusually happy and fulfilled despite living in places that can be ridiculously cold and dark for much of the year and ridiculously cold and light the rest of the time. We’ve all heard about the Danish practice of hygge, which is all about supreme cosiness and comfort through the darkest days. But the Norwegians have another star to follow in pursuit of happiness. It’s called friluftsliv, which translates as ‘free air life’. If you fancy boosting your health and well-being for 2017, here’s how to achieve it thanks to friluftsliv.
Exploring the delights of friluftsliv
Most of us appreciate the natural world. But the Norwegians are famous for their deep understanding and closeness with nature, spending great chunks of time outdoors appreciating it. Science supports the notion that being outdoors is good for you, with all sorts of new research revealing how greenery, trees, fresh air and the countryside really do have an actual and measurable effect on our physical and mental health. Being among nature reduces stress, boosts creativity and increases your happiness.
In Norway, friluftsliv is part of everyday life. It helps people interconnect with nature, easier to achieve over there since the people have a lot more free public access to nature than we do here. Norwegians spend time outdoors all year round, and they don’t just give a nod to winter walks. They really go for it. Just 20% of Norwegians live in the countryside but the nation’s cities are surrounded by parkland, woodland and fjords. There’s wilderness everywhere, perfect for getting back to nature and interacting with your surroundings.
You might spend your weekends catching a tram out to the forest for a day’s skiing followed by hot food cooked on a real outdoor fire. You might take things further and go hiking through the mountains, cross-country skiing or even mountain biking, often spending the night camping outdoors in a cosy snow cave.
It helps that Norwegians tend to have more free time than us, a working culture that supports flexible hours and discourages working overtime. Over there they work to live rather than living to work, something we could learn a valuable lesson from. But there’s more. They are also dedicated to the pursuit of well-being, an ethos very different from our own.
Norwegian children learn to spend time outdoors early, brought up to swim, ski, read maps and make safe, comfortable camps. They spend time in the woods and wilderness from birth and by the time they’re grown up they naturally embrace everything to do with nature. As they say over there, there’s is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.
Friluftsliv isn’t just for winter. It’s an all-year-round thing, including cross-country skiing, kayaking, ice-skating, foraging for wild food, fishing, hunting, snow shoeing and more through the light, bright summers as well. The country’s excellent law of allemannsrett – which translates as ‘all man’s rights’ – lets Norwegians roam freely throughout the countryside on foot or skis, and they can camp and picnic anywhere they like. As a result, According to the World Happiness Report, Norway is the fourth happiest nation in the world with high life expectancy, lots of personal freedom and excellent social support. Overworked, overtired Britain, in contrast, sits at number 23.
Embrace friluftsliv at home with a chiminea
You don’t have to live in Norway to embrace friluftsliv and feel fabulous. The best thing about it is, appreciating the outdoors is cheap, and we can all do it. Walking is free, so why not walk to work rather than drive or take public transport? Or get off the train or bus a stop earlier and walk the last leg? Get yourself some proper winter clothing and just go for it – you will
feel wonderful. If you can, find someone to walk to work with and enjoy good company at the same time. And take strolls in the park or just around the streets during the evenings all year round.
Norwegians also take up outdoor hobbies that mean they spend time in nature, things like stargazing and photography, wild swimming and foraging for wild foods. Do any of those appeal to you?
We’ve discovered a good way to enjoy the outdoors all year round. All you need is a garden. Even just a patio. Winter or summer, firing up a chiminea to warm the cockles of your heart – and your toes – makes spending time outdoors really special, a huge pleasure. There’s nothing quite like roasting your backside while watching the stars wheel overhead on a crisp winter night or balmy summer evening. Why not start right now by buying yourself a beautiful, rugged clay, cast iron or steel chiminea
, and make a new year’s resolution to enjoy more of the great outdoors?