Friluftsliv - A love at first sight?
With sublime fjords and glaciers alongside forest-covered hills, it is no wonder that many Norwegians have a very special relationship with its breath-taking nature. Throughout time, Norway has always sustained a high international involvement on the topic. The Brundtland report, dating from 1987, is not only where the roots of the concept of “sustainable development” are laid, but is also named after the former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. Years on, the legacy is still alive as the importance of nature is ingrained in both Norwegian politics and everyday life, through a concept named friluftsliv.
Judging the book by its cover?
The goal of friluftsliv is to achieve closeness to the natural environment. The complicated Nordic word which translates into “open-air-living” signifies a philosophy of outdoor and simple life, whilst taking care of nature. Often done together with family or friends, friluftsliv is a social experience which contributes to the sense of recreating tribal life, and fulfils a basic human need by giving the security of belonging. However, underneath, it has a deeper philosophical meaning - a view of oneself in the more-than-human world.
What is the importance?
The emphasis of friluftsliv is one of the fundamental ways to relate back to nature and tribal roots. Going back to the natural environment is a crucial element of the concept as this is where the development of humans has taken place. Our progression in close relationships with other species and the environment is the reason why we are adapted to nature, and not to today’s technological world. We are often disregarding the rhythms of nature, adapting our schedules to a 7-day week, without changing much depending on the season. However, our brain’s anatomy and functions are the same as thousands of years ago. So, why should we turn back the clock and rekindle our relationship with nature?
Back to the roots must start from the roots
Getting to know oneself while being part of society lies in the heart of friluftsliv and starts from a very early age. Friluftsliv is also part of school curricula but there are special friluftsliv kindergartens where children spend 80% of the time outside. In friluftsbarnehager, which is the name for these kindergartens, they work on sustainability awareness and teaching children to view and treat nature as a friend. They can learn through a hands-on approach and develop their motor skills. They climb trees, jump on rocks, and in winter they roll out their ski equipment and skates. The variety of seasons in Norway gives a lot of freedom to engage in various activities, but, overall, it stimulates children’s curiosity and involvement in nature.
Eventually, it’s all for your own sake
Experiencing Friluftsliv brings an abundance of both physical and mental health benefits. Being outdoors reduces anxiety, improves cognition and memory, and contributes to an overall positive feeling. The activity can be simple or elaborate. A recent study found that sitting quietly in the woods can even bring the same amount of happiness as conquering a mountain. Natural environments are important due to the role they had in our evolution as a species and the decreased exposure to nature causes changes in our psychological functioning. When outdoors, we shift our focus away from ourselves, creating a sense of fascination and of “being away”. Going on a hike or sitting around a campfire are only a few simple ideas to enjoy nature. Friluftsliv brings together our body and mind - the two components that sometimes tend to be separated nowadays, as we often do physical work and mental work in different settings.
From personal to political
Continuing the significance of the concept, friluftsliv has even acquired a place in Norway’s legislation. In fact, there is a special law for it - Friluftsloven. Rules concerning the behaviour in nature are laid down in Allemannsretten, part of Friluftsloven, which can be translated as “the right of public access”. Based on that, people can walk everywhere, even on private properties, as long as a reasonable distance is kept from houses (150 meters). They are also allowed to camp and stay up to two days on a property if it is at least 150 meters away from inhabited houses. However, if it is in an area far from the houses, then the limit of two days does not apply. This is in stark contrast to many other European countries such as Denmark and France where differing restrictions mean it is much more difficult to set up camp without incurring a fine. But that is not all when it comes to enjoying nature in Norway, as picking berries, mushrooms, and flowers is also part of the right to public access. Wildlife is truly for everyone to enjoy.
The cherry on the cake?
Norwegian courts have also played a notable role in enforcing respect towards nature to coincide with the concepts of friluftsliv. An example from the field of consumer protection serves as a good illustration. Normally in case of a defective product, people can choose between repair and replacement. Many generally opt for replacement, even though repair would usually constitute a more sustainable option. In EU legislation, there is a lack of incentives in place to promote repair. However, in Norway, there was a court case in 2006, where it was decided that the buyer will get repair of the heels of boots that broke 6 weeks after purchase, instead of replacement, because of environmental considerations. This is better for the environment as it uses fewer resources and reduces unsustainable fast consumerism. It is all about respect and enjoyment between humans and nature.
Digging into it
Whilst gazing at Norway’s stunning fjords which weave between its mountains may be enough to satisfy some, it is worth digging deeper because what lies underneath is no less fascinating. Ingraining our love for nature into everyday life will not only improve mental and physical well-being, but also enhance sustainability and environmental protection for the increasingly vulnerable world around us. It is all about a two-way relationship which is built on respect and enjoyment. We can all benefit from friluftsliv. If you are looking to learn more, you can even undertake a bachelor’s degree in the concept, or simply step outside and experience it for yourself.
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