Norwegian Friluftsliv, Forest Bathing, Biophilia: Finding Joy in Nature

I came across this article about a Nordic word, “friluftsliv” recently. Directly translated, it means something like “life in fresh air,” but it encompasses much more. Frilusftliv refers to the Norwegian cultural custom of living close to nature and spending time outside, even in the most brutal climates and weather - and the Norwegians do have some of the most challenging climates out there.

After a bit of googling, I found that the idea of friluftsliv was covered by several online publications back in 2020, in anticipation of a long, dreary winter whose isolating effects would only be exacerbated by the pandemic. Tree Hugger wrote a great piece about friluftsliv and its potential applications in the American cultural landscape (which is wildly different from that of Norway).

Rocky Maine coastline.
Recent views from a weekend trip to Portland, ME.

Frilusftliv is most often compared to Hygge, a culturally Danish word that refers to a feeling of coziness, comfort, peace, and wellness. Hygge rose to popularity a couple of years ago, and “practicing” hygge is all about curating spaces and lifestyles that inspire feelings of joy and comfort. Copenhagen is home The Happiness Research Institute, which studies what makes people happy and why (it’s well worth exploring their website). It’s crazy that we need such a thing, but it’s true that life can feel so convoluted and complicated that the most joyful aspects get lost.

What do friluftsliv and hygge have in common? We’re huge fans of both, that’s one thing. Scandinavian countries always rank as some of the happiest countries in the world, and the idea of hygge inspired some of our product selections and baskets. They both recognize intangible elements of human happiness - like the connection to our spaces, to nature, to each other - that sometimes feel lost in American life.

I love this idea of Frilusftliv, though, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it the last few weeks, especially as the weather in Boston has fluctuated from blizzard conditions to nearly 50 degrees Fahrenheit and dappled in timid wintery sunshine. Winter has been long, dark, and difficult for so many of us - the pandemic, political chaos, and social injustices of the last several months have made it equally as difficult. I’ve never been so thrilled for spring to arrive. The Norwegian notion of “there’s no bad weather, only bad clothes” would perhaps have eased some of the bleakness of the last few months. I want to carry this idea of “life in fresh air” with me and with Howling as we embrace the change of seasons coming months. Maybe next year, we’ll all be out embracing snowstorms, blustery winds, and the bright white light of wintertime.

Capitalizing on the human-nature connection has been adapted and interpreted across the globe, though. Frlusftliv is the Norwegian version, but the Japanese culture of forest bathing - or shinrin-yoku - is grounded in existing in nature with no agenda other than to connect with it through your senses. Similarly, American naturalist E.O. Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis speaks to our evolutionary affinity for and dependence on nature in our lives. Wilson’s thinking has yet to pervade mainstream American life, but it’s certainly a huge part of our thinking in the creation of our shop and business.

Studies show that we spend, on average, more than 90 percent of our time indoors. We might need all cultural versions of the human-nature connection to combat those kinds of numbers. From biophilia to friluftsliv to forest bathing, we’re all rediscovering the role nature needs to play in our lives - it makes us healthy and happy.