Now that the balmy days of spring have almost given way to summer, our focus is turning outward. Sparkling beaches and the lush foliage of nature trails are calling; longer days mean longer evenings, perfect for sipping cocktails in the warm air as the sun lazily dips its way below the horizon. There’s a reason we generally long to luxuriate in a ‘tropical paradise’ and not, let’s say, an ‘arctic paradise’; we tend to associate warm climes with relaxation and happiness. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, we rely on those warm months to see us through to the next year.
The Danish concept of hygge is one that has caught on in recent years, adopted by other Europeans and North Americans in our collective quest to survive winter. This living practice, a word for which there is no direct English translation, celebrates the happiness derived from coziness and comfort — for instance, enjoying red wine with friends while wrapped in blankets, illuminated by the soft glow of candlelight. It’s about coming together; in the face of bleakness and the extreme cold, it encourages us to derive joy from communion with others, or even in solitary comforts like a good book or a warm bath.
In a frigid land like Denmark, it makes sense that a cultural coping mechanism exists. And it’s working; according to the United Nations General Assembly World Happiness report, Denmark is the happiest country on Earth.
But Denmark isn’t the only Scandinavian country leading the way with healthy, mindful cultural practices. The Danish have hygge, and the Norwegians have friluftsliv.
Pronounced “free-loofts-live”, the concept, like hygge, has no direct English translation. The closest approximation would perhaps be “open air life” or “free air life”. And while hygge is all about looking inward to discover happiness, friluftsliv is about the idea of expansion and open spaces — of looking outward to find peace in the vistas of nature.
While generally considered a long-held practice, the word friluftsliv is thought to have first appeared in print as recently as 1859, in a poem by the famous Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. It was later introduced more widely to the public conscience by Fridtjok Nansen, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning scientist and diplomat, who gave lectures about his relationship with the natural world. During his lifetime, he skied across Greenland and the north pole.
Of course, reams of contemporary research have shown that getting outdoors has incredible benefits, both for physical and mental health. But this is something that Norwegians have known intuitively for centuries, taking advantage of their own stunning countryside to reconnect with nature by hiking, kayaking, and swimming.
The practice of appreciating the open air is one not entirely foreign to North American culture; indeed, American essayist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau wrote one of the seminal works on connecting with nature: Where I Lived, And What I Lived For. But the very act of naming a concept gives solidity to something that can be seen as a slippery, intangible idea.
And so, with that in mind, how can we learn from the Norwegians when it comes to making the most of summer? For starters, we can listen to the principles of friluftsliv when planning our vacations; perhaps it’s time to trade in the amenities of luxury hotels, if only temporarily, for a summer on the land.
In an increasingly industrialized, urbanized world, national parks serve as the last vestige of nature untamed — not hunted, not manicured. And for our readers in Canada, all national parks offer free admission during 2017 in honour of the country’s 150th birthday. From the glaciers of Banff to the wild ponies of Sable Island to the fjords of Gros Morne, the country offers no shortage of breathtaking terrain in its national parks, where citizens and visitors can reconnect with the land.
For those intent on truly immersing themselves in nature this summer, the Pacific Crest Trail offers a challenging journey sure to test an adventurer’s mettle. Aligned closely with the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountain Ranges, the trail spans a staggering 4,279 kilometres, from Manning Park in British Columbia to the U.S. Mexico Border, just south of Campo, California. For the truly ambitious who wish to hike the trail in its entirety, the journey can take between four and six months, and requires an additional six to eight months of planning and training beforehand. An overwhelming feat, to be sure, but there is perhaps no better way to appreciate a country’s landscape than to traverse it on foot.
Heading to the beach for an afternoon is an easy way to get that quick fix of nature and soak up some sun. But for the truly dedicated, Havasu Falls in Arizona is perhaps the mecca of outdoor bathing. Voted by Travel + Leisure as one of the best swimming holes in America, Havasu Falls is not for the feint of heart; the journey requires a ten-mile hike—that is, ten miles each way—but the destination is one of the gems of the Grand Canyon. Turquoise waters and travertine rock formations, not to mention a powerful waterfall, await.
Go Off The Grid
For those looking to couple their love of nature with a reprieve from technology and indoor comforts, off-grid camping might be the logical choice. Several online resources offer tips on where and how to ‘boondock’ — that is, camping or RV’ing without water, electricity, or sewage. Better yet, boondocking in the northern reaches of the continent, far from the light pollution of cities, might delight travellers with glimpses of the Northern Lights. After all, what better way to practice friluftsliv than by falling asleep as one witnesses the most incredible show in nature — lights dancing in, literally, the open air?