I’m going to admit something right now: I live for hygge. It’s warm, it’s comforting and it’s typically used to describe things that happen indoors. All are things I thoroughly enjoy, especially in winter.
In case you missed its rise to popularity in the English-speaking world, hygge (hoo-gah) is an untranslatable Danish word that some have attributed to the country’s high levels of wellbeing. Its closest counterpart in English is ‘cosy’, but in practice, the word means much more than that. It’s used to describe any situation or experience that evokes that fuzzy feeling of closeness, from seeing old friends to warming your hands on a hot mug. When much of your year consists of freezing temperatures and darkness, as it does in Denmark, it’s an extremely useful concept for keeping your spirits up.
However, for those feeling inspired by the spring, there’s another Scandinavian concept. It’s fresh, springlike and involves being outdoors. Literally, it means ‘free air life’. It’s friluftsliv, and like the Danish hygge, it is more of a philosophy than a word.
The word friluftsliv (fri-loofts-live) is Norwegian, and its influence goes deep. It doesn’t just mean being in the fresh air – it means enjoying, appreciating and being inspired by it. It’s part of the wider Norwegian emphasis on the outdoors, where pursuits like camping, hiking and summers at waterside cabins have become cultural institutions. While this is perhaps unsurprising in a land possessing such beautiful landscapes, it’s a lesson we in less active countries could make use of. Scandinavian countries are some of the best in the world for life satisfaction – along with Canada and New Zealand. There are loads of factors that make these places happiness-inducing, but I don’t think it can be a coincidence that they are all known for being outdoorsy.
We can’t all live next to a stunning fjord, but we can all take note of the smaller things: birds singing, sunrises and sunsets, blossom on the trees. We can encourage children to play outside, as they do in numerous (and very effective) Scandinavian education systems. And us adults can indulge in a bit of biophilia, at every opportunity. Fresh air is, after all, the cheapest and simplest of all worldly pleasures.
How will you be enjoying the outdoors this spring?