Friluftsliv: How To Try The Norwegian Outdoor Lifestyle

Two hikers stand over a fjord with their arms raised
(Image credit: kotangens)

Friluftsliv is a Norwegian concept. What is friluftsliv? The term means open-air living. Walking, cross-country skiing, hiking, fishing or just getting out into nature, all these and other in-the-wild adventures are included in the friluftsliv definition in Norway, but it is not limited to Norwegians. Might friluftsliv be something you could benefit from? Read on to learn more.

What Is Friluftsliv?

Friluftsliv - pronounced free-loofts-liv - involves making it a practice to incorporate nature into one's daily life. This is taught to children at a young age and is a guiding life principle in Norway. It has deep roots in the country’s heritage.

The friluftsliv meaning can be expressed in a variety of ways. Some Norwegians describe it as making a commitment to enjoying time outdoors every day or at least very frequently. It doesn’t matter if the sun is out, if it’s raining, or if the snow is falling, those taking friluftsliv seriously don’t hesitate to have outdoor adventures.

Origins of Friluftsliv

Although the idea of celebrating regular time outdoors has been part of Norway for much longer, the actual expression of friluftsliv moved into Norwegian vocabularies thanks to poet and playwright Henrik Ibsen. His poem “On the Heights'' was written in 1859. It told the story of how one man’s 12 month hike through the wilderness made him decide to never return to civilization. The man discovered that his spiritual and physical well being depended on time passed in nature.

Today, friluftsliv is a basic ingredient of Scandinavian lives. But it doesn’t mandate a one-year trek across wilderness. Rather, it has come to mean deciding to spend time in nature for purely recreational purposes.

Benefits of Friluftsliv

Friluftsliv is reputed to make people happier, and the high ranking Scandinavian countries and cities on the “happiest” lists suggest that this is true. It’s no secret in the world in general that passing time in nature makes people happy. Studies show that even investing two hours per week in activities in nature can increase a person’s sense of well-being.

But elevating one’s mood is just the beginning of friluftsliv benefits. This practice is known to assist those suffering from grief to heal, and also with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

How to Start Friluftsliving

Ready to give friluftsliving a try? Here’s how to start.

Get Outdoors (No Matter the Weather)

The basic way to start friluftsliving is to go outside. Not just today, but several times a week. In order to build the habit of celebrating in nature, it’s important at first to set aside time to spend in the wild and keep that commitment to yourself. Don’t let rain, sleet or snow hold you back unless there are safety concerns. Norwegians get out in any type of weather; it’s just a question of dressing appropriately in order to stay warm and dry.

Connect with Nature (and People)

Although tobogganing and month-long treks are exciting adventures, you don’t have to start out with the extraordinary and novel. Anything that connects you to nature and gets you outside is enough, especially just when you are beginning to engage in friluftsliving. Picking apples, gardening, or even relaxing beside a lake with do. If you can include other people in the plan, all the better.

Relax and Enjoy

So start small. Select a fun outdoor activity, invite a friend, then relax and enjoy. You can always work up to longer, more adventurous recreation in nature.

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.