What is Friluftsliv and Can It Make Us Healthier, Happier and More Creative?

by | Jan 9, 2023

“Friluftsliv isn’t something you can touch. It’s something you feel in your soul.”– August Casson

Friluftsliv (pronounced FREE-loofts-liv) or “open-air life” is a big part of Aishling Forest School’s outdoor pedagogy and is a centuries-old Nordic tradition of connecting with the natural and cultural landscape in everyday life. You can think of it as the outdoorsy cousin of Hygge.

According to Linda McGurk (Rain or Shine Mamma) and author of “The Open-Air Life”, “friluftsliv revolves around feeling joy outside, regardless of the season or the weather. It’s about learning useful skills, without pressure to compete or achieve.” Whether cooking a meal over an open fire, going for a walk in the woods, foraging for nature treasures, or taking a sit-spot under a favorite maple tree, open-air life can help us restore balance in our mind, body and spirit. Plus, it’s free and can be found most anywhere. All you need to do is gear up and head outside.

rope bridge forest school

McGurk also explains thatfriluftsliv means different things to different people, but in its original and most pure form, it can be described as the notion that returning to nature is akin to coming home.

What genuine friluftsliv is NOT:

  • Teaching about nature using a specific curriculum
  • Participating in a wilderness therapy program or getting a “nature prescription” from a doctor
  • Using nature as a playground for outdoor recreation, for example by participating in competitive or adventure sports
  • Changing, destroying or taking control of nature
  • Using motorized vehicles in nature

What genuine friluftsliv IS:

  • Learning the ways of other living organisms, and understanding your own place in the natural world with nature as the teacher
  • Developing a love and respect for nature through direct experience
  • Using all senses to create a deep sensation of connectedness with nature
  • Rediscovering our natural, biological rhythms through nature immersion
  • Growing self-esteem as well as physical, social and survival skills in the natural world throughout life”

Contrary to American “hustle culture,” overworking and sacrificing your personal life isn’t considered a good thing in Norway. It’s considered an inability to prioritize in one’s work to Norwegians. Nordic nations consistently top the annual UN World Happiness Reports, despite their cold, harsh winters, although these happiness rankings are based on six factors — income, freedom, trust, healthy life expectancy, social support and generosity — spending time outdoors is not on the list. Finland, for the last 4 years has ranked #1 in the UN World Happiness Reports, with Northern European countries taking the remaining top spots. USA was ranked 16th in 2021.

To boot, Finland, Sweden and Denmark consistently rank in the top 20 in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a worldwide study by OECD in 78 nations of 15-year old students scholastic performance on mathematics, science and reading. The USA ranked 25th in 2018.

So could it really be that a Frilutsliv or open-air lifestyle could be a contributing factor to a healthier, happier and more creative life? The answer is yes. According to the latest neuroscience, relaxing (especially in nature) makes you more creative and working fewer hours makes you healthier. Overwork, as research has shown makes your brain “dull” in the sense of being the opposite of “sharp” and quite literally kills your creativity.

Here’s how Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, characterizes this phenomenon:

“Neuroscience is finding that when we are idle, in leisure, our brains are most active. The Default Mode Network lights up, which, like airport hubs, connects parts of our brain that don’t typically communicate. So a stray thought, a random memory, an image can combine in novel ways to produce novel ideas.”

Unfortunately, the myth that overwork, schedules and time spent inside equals success has become so ingrained in American culture that it’s going to take a lot of courage to buck conventional wisdom, even when neuroscience has proved that “wisdom” is demonstrably false.

So my advice to you (and frankly to myself as well) is to summon the courage to practice an open-air life, relax and let your children simply play outside. Be brave enough to give you and your family the leisure it needs to carry your ideas to the next level.










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