Monday over Coffee: Hygge & Friluftsliv

Need Some Words of Encouragement?


Hygge & Friluftsliv 

For quite some time I’ve been drawn to the things of Northern Europe in general and to Scandinavia in particular. We’ve taken family trips to Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands. Post-Corona, Sweden, Finland, and maybe even Iceland are on my short list of ‘someday’ destinations.

Though I have considered it, I’m not completely sure why I feel pulled so magnetically toward these places. Maybe it’s the clean, blue-rinsed, sober color of the sky in the morning and early evening, free of the orange particulate glow one encounters closer to the equator. Maybe it’s the scenery, both thrilling and chilling, arising as land and water meet then mix together—timeless forests giving way to stunning fjords under the shimmering Northern Lights. Maybe it’s the modern transportation systems coursing efficiently through remarkable cities which are somehow both ancient, yet sleekly designed. Perhaps it’s the compelling history of the region—Viking adventures and fairy tales, bustling 17th century stock markets, Tulip Fever, and the ongoing tug-of-war between innovation and the perils of the cold, encroaching sea. Maybe it’s the friendly, yet stoical nature of the people with their lovely smiles and charming currencies. Maybe it’s just the cool furniture.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s how—in these places, with these peoples—two beautiful and juxtaposed Nordic concepts collide, combine, and flow into one another all at once.

If you’ve recently picked up a book about interior decorating or any glossy lifestyle magazine over the last few years, you’ve probably heard of hygge, pronounced ‘hoo-gah.’It’s Danish, and there’s no actual translation for the word, but it dates back to the 1800’s and encompasses the idea of well-being with connotations of comfort, calm, warmth, and the closeness of loved ones. A good bowl of pasta at home with family is hygge. Laughter over a board game with friends: hygge. A deep conversation in front of a crackling fireplace; a mindful appreciation of the comfort of the sofa under a warm blanket; a quietly memorable moment of reunion around the table—these all embody the Danish experience of hygge.

Friluftsliv is something different. The nineteenth century Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen, invented the word in his poem, On the Heights, which follows a young farmer on a solo year-long trek through the mountains and the changing seasons as he struggles to gain a clear conviction of his life's calling. Friluftsliv is the spiritual and physical nourishment we receive from being outside. It conveys how breathing deeply and exerting one’s self in the open air tends to clear both head and heart. The idea is now so embedded into the national identity that Norwegian law recognizes a ‘freedom to roam’ and the country's capital, Oslo, is home to a group called Norsk Friluftsliv, which serves as an umbrella organization for all of Norway’s many outdoor clubs. Lasse Heimdal, who currently leads it, calls friluftsliv a lifestyle marked by a commitment to being outside. It’s characterized by things like long walks with friends, bike rides, walking the dog in the morning, skiing, swimming, skateboarding, hiking, or just spending the afternoon in a hammock. “It’s healthy and it’s social,” he said recently in a National Geographic interview. “A time-out from cell phones and computers—being outdoors and in nature, it’s one of the best places to relax.” 

There’s a bit to unpack here. Hygge is experienced mostly as an ‘inside thing’ while friluftslivis certainly an ‘outside thing.’ Both are elementally spiritual in nature—experiences in which there is an appreciation of the joy and happiness embedded in the present moment; experiences from which we breathe in the small elations that make us feel good, alive, and grateful for the love and striking beauty with which God has blessed us, inside and out.

Perhaps as March blows in, leaving February in the cold, there’ll be more friluftsliv in your future. Surely as the pandemic yields to the scientific miracles wrought by Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, there’ll be more hygge in your future too, in the company of good friends and the extended family you’ve missed. Sometimes it takes coming up with a new word or two to truly claim what’s before us and what’s coming hopefully soon for all. So, hang on. Take heart. It’s not too far away. Healing. Homecoming. Hygge. Friluftsliv. Joy—inside and out.

God,
 
Thank You for the comfort and shelter I receive from those I love. Thank You also for the experience of the coming days of spring and the wholeness it brings so reliably to my soul. And as my turn for healing comes, as I venture farther out and further along, God, I pray You also bring me home. 

Amen.

—Greg Funderburk 


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