Move over hygge! Friluftsliv is what you need this winter

Young girl pulling her sled in the snow, friluftsliv Photo by Passioneak/Shutterstock

What’s more comforting than a bracing walk through a blizzard?

For much of Canada, winter means short days, biting cold, and regular snowfall. That’s similar to the weather in Norway. But while we might be tempted to stay cosy inside, friluftsliv (roughly free-luftz-leev) embraces finding comfort in the wintery outdoors. It’s like an inversion of hygge: you’re swapping a mug of cocoa by the fire for a thermos of cocoa by a frozen lake.

What are the origins of friluftsliv?

Originally coined by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen in 1859, friluftsliv means “open-air living.” Back then, it meant spending time in nature for spiritual fulfillment. These days, it’s embraced by people across Scandinavia to describe their love of year-round outdoor activities. Going for lunchtime walks or camping in the woods happens whatever the weather, be it sleet, snow, or a storm—that’s friluftsliv. And there isn’t a competitive element such as snowsports. The important thing is enjoying your time outside, not trying to be the best at it. 

Friluftsliv is also tied into allmansrätten, the right to roam. Scandinavian countries let people walk, hike, and pitch camping hammocks wherever they want, so long as they respect the beauty of their surroundings.

How can I use it? 

With COVID-19 continuing to limit indoor socializing, meeting loved ones outside in the cold seems like an inevitability. Friluftsliv means embracing that. Make the most of this strange time and get out into nature: wander around with your kids, or go on a socially-distanced dog walk with a friend.

Getting outside in the fresh air has proven health benefits—especially in the winter when lack of sunlight can affect our mood. Spending time outdoors is also comforting because it reminds us that nature is always there. Friluftsliv lets us embrace the tranquility of the great outdoors and the unique stillness that winter brings to natural landscapes. 

But make sure you’ve got a warm coat, hat, scarf, and mittens at the ready. As the Scandinavian proverb says: there’s no bad weather, only bad clothes.

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