What is friluftsliv? Why the latest Norwegian lifestyle trend could boost mental health

An affinity with nature has shaped the country's national identity, but 'free-air life' can be enjoyed by all

Even if you've never been anywhere near the Nordics, you may be familiar with concepts such as hygge, koselig and lagom.

The latest Scandinavian term to gain popularity is Norway's "friluftsliv". As people in virtually every corner of the globe continue to adapt to the effects of the global pandemic, the concept has emerged as a currency for the body and mind.

Friluftsliv directly translates to "free-air life" and refers to a love of the outdoors. Norwegians are known to be passionate about nature, whether they live in cities or smaller towns. "We Norwegians regard friluftsliv as a wide range of outdoor activities in nature," says Bente Lier, general secretary of Norsk Friluftsliv. "This includes walking, cycling, berry and mushroom harvesting, fishing and, of course, cross-country skiing." Incidentally, before we talk, Lier had completed a round of skiing.

The term friluftsliv was popularised by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, in 1859. However, the concept of being in nature for purely recreational purposes is much older, and played an important part in building a unique Norwegian national identity. You see, in Norway, there's no such thing as bad weather. Only bad clothing.

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<span>It is fair to say that friluftsliv is an important factor in Norwegians feeling as happy as we do, because being outdoors brings happiness</span>

Friluftsliv – and the idea of embracing outdoor activities – has been an important coping mechanism for many Norwegians during the pandemic. Last year, one in three of the country's citizens increased the time they spent outdoors. A study last August by French research company Ipsos found that over the summer, more than 1.5 million Norwegians went camping – an impressive statistic in a country of about 5.4 million people.

Being outdoors offers a sense of peace and quiet, and allows you to embrace the silence you find in nature, says Lier. “To us, going outdoors is always nice. Cold or rainy weather is never an excuse for staying indoors,” she says.

Research published on medical database ScienceDirect.com highlights how being in nature has clear positive mental benefits in reducing anxiety and improving cognition, and the positive effects can be felt in a matter of minutes.

A hike in Ras Al Khaimah's leopard canyon. Reporter: Haneen Al Dajani. 7 April 2017. Photo: PJ van Schalkwyk for The National *** Local Caption ***  PP5_5354-Edit.jpg

This affinity with nature is perhaps one of the reasons why Norway ranks as one of the happiest countries in the world. “It is fair to say that friluftsliv is an important factor in Norwegians feeling as happy as we do, because being outdoors brings happiness,” Lier says. “Nature is open 24/7; it is an escape room, and a place for disconnecting from all corona worries.”

And, Lier says, this is a lifestyle trend that can be enjoyed almost anywhere. “The most important thing is to keep it simple. There is no need for a fancy expedition; going for a walk in the park or the beach is enough.”

In the UAE, there are myriad opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors, especially while the weather is pleasant. While we may not have Norway's evergreen forests, there are wadis to explore, walks along the beach to be had, kilometres of cycling track to attack and infinite stretches of desert to camp in.

There’s only one important thing to remember, Lier says: “In nature, we smile and say hello.”