April 13, 2024

What is Friluftsliv, the Norwegian way of life in harmony with nature?

How often do you walk in a forest or a large park? Remember the last time you turned off all your gadgets and simply enjoyed contemplating nature? This action has a name – friluftsliv, which in Norwegian means “outdoor life”.

But what exactly is the secret behind this Norwegian philosophy? Get ready to be inspired by the friluftsliv philosophy.

What is Friluftliv?

thomas cole the oxbow painting
The Oxbow, Thomas Cole, 1836. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Each era produces its own philosophy. Hygge had been widespread for some time – the Scandinavian tradition of wrapping yourself up in a blanket and woolen socks, with a hot drink in your hands, seemed like a great pastime.

But, of course, the pandemic did not leave us indifferent: staying at home became unbearable for many, no matter how many cups of cocoa we prepared. A new and more suitable trend has gained prominence – friluftsliv.

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In the word “friluftsliv”, fri means freedom, luft means air and liv means life. In 1835, in one of his poems, Henrik Ibsen coined this term. Not more than a few decades later, traveler Fridtjof Nansen would popularize it through his book of the same name. But the philosophy of outdoor living itself has roots long before its name.

Friluftsliv embodies the belief of establishing connections with nature by embracing new experiences of active engagement. Rather than mere travel or leisurely outings, friluftsliv involves deliberately integrating nature into our everyday existence, recognizing our integral role in the environment.

panorama moons hiroshige
Panorama of the Eight Views of Kanasawa under a Full Moon, by Utagawa Hiroshige, 1857. Source: The Met Museum.

Sometimes. friluftsliv is described as tourism, but that’s not exactly true. Friluftsliv has nothing to do with goals (walking 10 km, climbing to the top of a mountain, etc.), but with what the process of being in nature itself gives us back – contemplation, sensation and rethinking.

During sunny days, when climbing to the top of a challenging mountain or strolling through rich, green forests, an ethereal expanse reveals itself from the hum of life in these natural havens. Pretension, illusion and social facade disintegrate into oblivion. We are presented with the precious opportunity to truly dwell within ourselves, with full attention, listening deeply to our inner voice and letting go, and enjoying the eternal here and now.

Imagine what would happen if this type of practice was included as much as possible in your life, no matter your schedule or season. Do you think this will help you become calmer and more aware? Good! You are beginning to understand the Norwegian mentality!

The key elements of the Friluftsliv philosophy

Pieter Bruegel, the elder, harvesters, painting
The Harvesters, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565, via The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Norwegian word friluftsliv consists of three parts: fri, luft and liv, which are the basis of the concept. Each word is related to a specific aspect of philosophy, and together they form what has become known as the basis of friluftsliv:


Within friluftsliv, freedom is, first of all, the ability to break away from gadgets and material things and be independent from civilization and informational noise. This philosophy requires studying nature with a specific attitude – walking undisturbed, not picking flowers, collecting butterflies or otherwise disturbing the environment.

Secondly, freedom within friluftsliv extends to the refusal of fashionable habits in favor of practicality and convenience. Consequently, Norwegians do not wear ties and coats, even in summer; Norwegian women prefer long dresses and overcoats.

It is important to note that Norwegians dress appropriately for winter conditions because they want to avoid any negative consequences resulting from dramatic climate changes – caught by surprise, unexpectedly cold or hot weather can cause health problems, as well as ruining clothes and freezing them. the face.

They realize that dressing in layers is a very useful habit that allows them to easily discard or wear clothing close to body temperature as needed.

Luft – “Air”

painting by winlow homer gloucester porto
Gloucester Harbor, Winslow Homer, 1873. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Norwegians love the outdoors and care for their countryside as a natural habitat. Deeply connected to this environment throughout childhood, they learn to take into account the nature and consequences of any action must be considered before doing anything.

The rule of Allemansrätten (“freedom to move”), enshrined at legislative level in Norway since 1957, requires a respectful attitude towards nature and its assets.

Furthermore, it recognizes equal entry rights for all citizens and tourists. In Norway, the promotion of tourism on private property is legal if verbal consent has been given in advance by the owners of this property.

Liv – “Life”

Norwegians interpret “friluftsliv” literally, as the idea of ​​life in nature. Norwegians believe that nature should feel like a home where you are safe and comfortable, without fear or insecurity.

People in Norway mainly go out three times a week. There are state-funded points within the country where you can rent camping equipment. At home, people also respect and care for each other with their donations to relief organizations.

Additionally, an impressive number of Norwegians show initiative in caring for hiking trails and ski slopes, which are typically in perfect condition, along with small huts often used as shelters by other travelers while hiking or hiking. And it’s only 20 minutes to get to the forest from central Oslo!

The many benefits of Friluftsliv

Georges Seurat bathers in Asnières' painting
Bathers at Asnières, Georges Seurat, 1884. Source: National Gallery

Friluftsliv has the ability to unlock the body’s potential in ways that go beyond advancement in the gym.

Participating in outdoor activities may very well be equivalent to giving your body a stimulating hug. Going down a mountain and going back up, or skiing on snowy slopes, or cycling through stunning landscapes; These are all different ways to enjoy the outdoors.

Imagine your body as if it were a well-tuned instrument: it craves movement. Sure, you could play the song yourself, but why not take the time to tweak it further so you have the freedom to unleash its full potential?

Movement is not just muscle development; it extends far beyond the core of our mental well-being. It’s like a spell against some of the dark forces that plague our minds: stress, anxiety and depression. It allows us to take a break from life and all its chaotic hustle and bustle.

Friluftsliv teaches us to slow down in a world that always seems to go by at the speed of light. An afternoon walk outside can help us find clarity, creativity, and purpose outside.

Plus, friluftsliv opens doors to incredible social experiences. When you go on outdoor adventures, you often also find yourself among very similar people who bring others into their circle of friends (and sometimes more than just friends). Meeting these new soulmates enriches our understanding and experience of friendship around campfires or atop picturesque mountain peaks.

How to follow the Friluftsliv philosophy?

Painting by Alfred Sisley Passerelle d_argenteuil
Passerelle d’Argenteuil, Alfred Sisley, 1872. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Being outdoors reduces stress and improves health. Friluftsliv is definitely worth trying, especially since you don’t have to go to the taiga or mountains to live its philosophy.

To understand friluftsliv, you would need a love of nature. While there are more extreme ways to interact with the outdoors, this is not strictly necessary; friluftsliv is not just for hikers and extreme athletes.

Friluftsliv can also extend activities such as bonfires, fishing, berry picking, skiing, night walking with your dog within a park and countless other experiences getting out into the natural environment.

One of the main ideas of friluftsliv is to disconnect from everyday stress and reconnect with nature.

In the Norwegian concept, a person goes out into nature not in search of beautiful images, but in search of spiritual experiences. Friendly gatherings by the fire in many ways revive the feeling of integrity and belonging that has been lost in the modern world.

Also, Norwegians have a saying: there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes! Above all, comfort, waterproofness and breathability are valued. For example, breathable yet warm woolen socks and hats are typical clothing that can help us live a relaxed life.

In addition to wearing weather-appropriate clothing, northerners also embrace the idea of ​​“winter positive thinking” when it comes to the weather. It’s best to embrace the beauty of snow and other winter elements. “Bad” weather is an opportunity to appreciate and respect nature in all its forms. Therefore, friluftsliv involves not only physical preparation, but also mental readiness.

So what is Friluftsliv?

meindert hobbema the travelers painting
The Travelers, Meindert Hobbema, 1662. Source: National Art Gallery

This term friluftsliv originates from Scandinavia and is literally translated from Norwegian as “free air of life”. It consists of the search for happiness and a “sip of freedom” in nature – forests, fields and fresh air. It’s not about taking an occasional trip to the forest to have a picnic or take photos, but about adopting a lifestyle of unity with nature on an ongoing basis.

For residents of Norway, where this philosophy came from, it is very important to have their way of life in harmony with the environment and therefore being outdoors has become common in their society. In fact, even the Norwegian government did not hesitate to sign a law that provides citizens with free access to natural resources. Its use is possible both by the population of the country and by tourists (subject to environmental friendliness).

The concept may seem simpler than it really is. Freedom is not only the opportunity to use the power and energy of nature, but also to have a respectful attitude towards it. Preserving and protecting are also part of this philosophy.

Furthermore, this philosophy also aims to reject deep-rooted stereotypes and dominant trends – this means freedom from social pressure, as well as choice in favor of personal convenience and comfort. In other words, adherents of friluftsliv will choose practicality and personal freedom over the rules and norms imposed by society.

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