‘Friluftsliv’ Is the Mood-Boosting Nordic Concept We Need As the Days Get Colder and Shorter

Photo: Getty Images/Tamas Zsebok Eye Em
Given their ranking as top happy countries in years past, Scandinavian folks seem to know a thing or two about putting a positive spin on everything: Canceling plans for couch time is hygge, doing nothing is the art of niksen, and potentially stressful ski lodge vacays with your family is koselig. And then there’s Norway’s concept of friluftsliv. Just so you know, that’s pronounced [Googles "how do you pronounce 'friluftsliv'”] "free-loofts-liv," and the friluftsliv meaning is about honoring the beautiful outdoors, especially when the temperatures are frigid.

As someone whose seasonal affective disorder symptoms start drifting down once October hits, I’m always looking for ways to make winter more bearable. But as a pandemic rages, daylight wanes, and quarantine continues, fear of isolation and the ability to freely and comfortably spend time outdoors looms especially strong this year. That's where getting resourceful and giving the Nordic concept of friluftsliv a try comes in. If these COVID times have taught us anything, it's that home and happiness can be wherever and whatever we decide it to be. So, consider it time to put on your snowshoes and skis and find it.

"Anyone looking for a positive headspace during the winter should begin to see the outdoors as a space for endless possibilities. Our mental health increases when we feel challenged and like the world is our oyster.” —psychotherapist Jennifer Teplin, LCSW

“Previously we would think that the winter is the time to snuggle up with a book, but this year I would encourage anyone who's looking for a positive headspace during the winter months to begin seeing the outdoors as a space for endless possibilities, as well as a new way to challenge their current way of life,” says psychotherapist Jennifer Teplin, LCSW. “Our mental health increases when we feel challenged and like the world is our oyster.”

Experts In This Article

The first way to embrace the friluftsliv meaning is being brave and bundled up enough to just get out into nature. Put on your gloves and your mask, and make a point to explore your local park. While research tends to suggest that green imagery is associated with reducing stress, you can still get in some sunshine. Lest we forget, light therapy is a great way to banish winter blues (shout out to my mood lamp, a real hero).

Even if you’re stuck in an urban area without nearby parks, though, you can still get yourself revved up to get outdoors with a socially distanced friend, a FaceTimed loved one, or even on a solo walk to enjoy all of winter’s splendor. “A mindful walk includes using your senses to take in and notice what is going on around you,” says psychotherapist Michele Burstein, LCSW. “Because eating indoors will be limited for many of us this winter, I think utilizing outdoor restaurants to meet up with friends and family will be a great way to connect with others [if the situation is safe for you]. It seems that many restaurants are using heaters and creating comfortable outdoor spaces for the upcoming chilly months.”

It’s also a great time to embrace some sort of winter cardio. If you really want to go HAM on embracing the friluftsliv meaning, you might want to take up skiing, hockey, or your childhood dream of being the next Tara Lipinski (just me?). Considering how roller skating really took off this past summer, I would be less than surprised if people started getting on blades a lot more this winter.

Ultimately, given the state of the America right now, I’d much rather just move to Norway than endure another season here. But enjoying the spirit of friluftsliv is a nice option to sort of split the difference. After all, when you look on the bright side in the winter time, you get to see how much light reflects off snow.

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