There is a Norwegian word that I’ve added to my vocabulary: Friluftsliv. While I certainly cannot pronounce it (I’m told it’s sounds like free-luftz-leev), I’m trying to understand how to live it. It means, literally, free air life. Friluftsliv is all about feeling good by being outside. In the past I’ve written about the word ‘hygge,’ which is a word for finding comfort inside; creating a cozy nest and a warm fire where we gather quietly with friends to get through the longest and darkest nights of winter. Friluftsliv goes the other way. It is the joy of bundling up on a cold day and heading out to breathe in the fresh air and explore a little.
With two young kids our outdoor adventures just take us around the neighbourhood or to the dog park. These are not grand adventures, but by getting out and into the community, with a cup of hot chocolate in our hands, we return home refreshed. The Covid cobwebs that come from being inside all the time are brushed off in favour of standing in the winter sun, or pointing out the twinkle of Christmas lights at night. It is an unexpected reprieve from the challenges of working from home, or feeling isolated.
Friluftsliv is, in many ways, a gift for our mind as well as our bodies. Nature reminds us that we are part of something special, grand, and beautiful. We are reminded of seasons, of change, and the hope that working through challenges can bring. Getting outside puts our anxious thoughts in their place and offers the perspective we need.
There is another benefit for being outside: others. As a pastor I often meet with people, which is a challenge under the current restrictions. But I’ve found walking outside a safe way to connect with others. Aristotle was known to enjoy walking with his students, finding it helpful to listen and teach while on the move rather than in a classroom setting. Whether we walk with friends or family, getting outside is one way to reconnect and keep a safe distance if needed.
Friluftsliv, at its core, is the sense that we have the right to roam. We can have a bonfire, go skating, make snowmen, or discover a new trail. In Norway, one in three have spent more time outside since March as a way of handling the stress of Covid. In school Norwegian children are taught how to be outside so that they can live the ‘free air life’ more easily.
If you are looking for inspiration to get outside and clear the Covid cobwebs from your mind, or if you want to help your family peel away from the TV to discover something new, there are a few ways to be inspired. Consider your outdoor clothing and find ways to layer your clothes. Warm socks and a good toque can go a long way to make you feel like staying out in colder weather longer. I have found inspiration in poetry. Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry capture the restorative beauty of being outdoors and their poetry can energize your own sense of outdoor discovery. Lastly you may consider the outdoors inside. Visit birdsong.fm and turn up the sound of songbirds in your home or office, or set up a potted plant in your window.
This winter may be a challenge for many in our community and we may need a plan to survive and thrive. Norwegians might offer us a free gift by inviting us to join them outside and into the free air life that they’ve long found helpful. Where will you go?