Enjoy winter by embracing the Norwegian concept of Friluftsliv

Two senior ladies are sitting on a bench by a burning campfire​ during wintertime.

By now, you have probably heard of hygge, the Danish concept of coziness that has become wildly popular and widely referred to, if not practiced, around the world. The idea of hygge these days is associated with relaxation and coziness: warming your feet by the fire and drinking hot cocoa, and reading or watching your favorite show while curled up in a blanket.

For many, this seems like a natural way to experience the cold winter season. But coziness isn’t the only concept important to people living in Nordic countries, and doesn’t dictate how they spend the darkest, coldest months of the year. In Norway, one concept encourages people to get outdoors as much as possible all year round.

Friluftsliv, a Norwegian word that translates to “free air life,” is about more than simply getting outdoors. This concept is important all year round, but might explain how Norwegians approach winter with a positive mindset: according to Kari Leibowitz, “people [in northern Norway] view winter as something to be enjoyed, not something to be endured.” The idea is that spending time outdoors improves your mental and physical well-being. We all know that physical activity can improve one's health, but research shows that being outside is also important for one's mental health. For example, a 2015 study published found that a 90-minute walk outdoors can lead to a decrease in “depressive ruminations” in the prefrontal cortex in both those with mental health conditions and healthy individuals. Friluftsliv can be important in helping to maintain a healthy lifestyle and mindset.

For many, winter can lead to a retreat indoors, avoiding the frigid temperatures and snowy weather for the sake of indoor warmth and comfort (hence the increased popularity around the world of hygge, or the Norwegian version called koselig). However, this can also lead to a decrease in time with friends and family, and a decrease in activity in general. Friluftsliv doesn’t have to mean regularly taking part in sports such as hiking, skiing, or jogging outdoors. The BBC points out that Nordics use the term to explain activities ranging “from lunchtime runs in the forest, to commuting by bike (or on cross-country skis when the snow falls) to joining friends at a lakeside sauna (often followed by a chilly dip in the water) or simply relaxing in a mountain hut.” It can be as simple as taking your dog out for a stroll around the block, or walking to and from the bus stop or subway station. The activity itself isn’t the main purpose of friluftsliv, but rather the mindset of mindfulness, an awareness of being in nature and finding peace in it.

Find time to be outside without checking your phone or rushing to get into the next warm place. Instead, look for ways to enjoy the experience, whether the temperature is 75 degrees and sunny, or 30 degrees and snowing. (You can even channel hygge by wrapping yourself up in a warm scarf and a cozy hat!) Here are a few ways you can enjoy the outdoors, even in the winter:

  1. Go ice-skating. Plenty of cities and towns have outdoor ice skating rinks available for the community to enjoy. Bundle up and lace up a pair of rental skates!
  2. Go for a walk or a jog. Again, this can be as simple as walking or jogging around your block. Try seeking out a nearby park or trail, maybe one you’ve been meaning to get to but haven’t had the chance to check out yet.
  3. Make s’mores. You don’t need to be at a campsite or have a firepit in your backyard to enjoy this pastime. If you live in the city or an apartment complex, there might be someplace nearby with an outdoor firepit where you can roast marshmallows. (Check out Washington D.C.’s southwest waterfront or the New England Zoo outside of Boston as examples of places to find a warm fire for this sweet treat!)
  4. Volunteer. Chances are, there are historical sites, national or state parks, and local nonprofits that are looking for volunteers for outdoor activities and events. Check out our Volunteer Opportunities page for links to websites where you can find opportunities in your own communities.

Do you practice friluftsliv in the winter? Let us know what your favorite activities are over on Facebook and Twitter.

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