ArticlePDF Available

Friluftsliv: The Scandinavian Philosophy of Outdoor Life



This paper explores the roots of the Scandinavian outdoor lifestyle of friluftsliv and its philosophical implication as well as its applications for environmental education. Friluftsliv as a phi-losophy is deeply rooted in Norway and Sweden but has lately obtained a more a superficial meaning by the commercialization of outdoor activities. The philosophy and biology of friluftsliv is explored showing its importance as a means, in environmental education, to facilitate a true connectedness to the more-than-human world.
Friluftsliv:The Scandinavian Philosophy of
Outdoor Life
Hans Gelter, Luleå University of Technology, Sweden
This paper explores the roots of the Scandinavian outdoor
lifestyle of friluftsliv and its philosophical implication as well as
its applications for environmental education. Friluftsliv as a phi-
losophy is deeply rooted in Norway and Sweden but has lately
obtained a more a superficial meaning by the commercialization
of outdoor activities. The philosophy and biology of friluftsliv is
explored showing its importance as a means, in environmental
education, to facilitate a true connectedness to the more-than-
human world.
Cet article explore les racines du style de vie en plein air
scandinave connu sous le nom de « friluftsliv », ainsi que ses
implications philosophiques et ses applications en éducation
relative à l’environnement. La philosophie du « friluftsliv »est
profondément enracinée dans les sociétés norvégienne et
suédoise, mais s’est récemment superficialisée par la
commercialisation des activités de plein air. L’auteur explore les
aspects philosophiques et biologiques du « friluftsliv », en
mettant en évidence son importance comme moyen d’éducation
relative à l’environnement en vue de faciliter l’établissement
d’une relation véridique avec le monde « plus-que-humain ».
We are in a splendid remote wilderness—the Wind River in northern
Yukon. Crystal clear water sparkles around us with the marbled river bot-
tom several meters below, giving the sensation of our canoe gliding in open
air. The strong current and our synchronized paddle strokes carry the canoe
down this Arctic river with a force that creates a deep shiver of pleasure. The
breathtaking big sky above us, the river valley bordered by magnificent
mountains, and the sensation of undisturbed wildlife surrounding us caus-
esadeep emotional storm of happiness within, filling my eyes with tears—
Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 5, Summer 2000 77
aspiritual, almost religious feeling I often experience in nature. This land-
scape absorbs me so completely, entering through all of my senses and
directly touching my limbic system. This gives me a sensation of a total inte-
gration with this land; a strong feeling of being at home in a place I have
never visited before. Sensing myself as part of the landscape I experience the
processes and evolution of this place unfolding itself inside my conscious-
ness. I get a strong feeling of knowing the ways of things around me.
The power and intensity of this feeling has always surprised me, as well
as the fact that not everybody experiences the same feelings. Trying to dis-
cuss this feeling with people who have never experienced it is difficult, as
they cannot relate such strong feelings to nature. The feeling of being a part
of the river or the mountains seems too spiritual to most people. Many of
today’s urban people have lost this ability to experience nature in a sub-
jective way,seeing the landscape in an objective and disconnected way. The
ability to be absorbed by a place is a state of mind, a skill that needs train-
ing. Many modern people have lost this ability to give the landscape free
access, through open senses, to the limbic system. This limbic system
makes up the functional centre of human emotions and memory. Sensory
information enters the brain here and the higher centre of integration in the
cerebrum consults the limbic system for memory retrieving and memory
processing. By electrical stimulation of the limbic system hallucinations, reli-
gious experiences, out-of-body experiences, and near-dead experiences
can artificially be created, indicating this system’s importance for the expe-
rience of reality. Thus it seems as if there is an ability to let the landscape
interact directly through open senses with the limbic system when inter-
preting the world, which can create a strong emotional reaction—a reaction
we may experience as spiritual or religious. This has nothing to do with the
endorphin and adrenaline rush one can experience in adventureactivities.
This spiritual feeling of connectedness to the landscape is probably the
deep experience in Arne Næss’s philosophy of Deep Ecology (Sessions,
1995). Næss, himself a mountaineer and outdoor person, proposes that a
deep experience of nature creates deep feelings leading to deep questions
and a deep commitment for nature (Harding, 1997). This may result in a par-
adigm shift in one’s way of viewing the world. In Scandinavia we would
say that this deep experience of the landscape is the essence and reward of
alifestyle we call “friluftsliv[free-luufts-leav]. The word translates to
“free air life” meaning a philosophical lifestyle based on experiences of the
freedom in nature and the spiritual connectedness with the landscape.
The rewardof this connectedness with the landscape is this strong sensa-
tion of a new level of consciousness and a spiritual wholeness.
78 Hans Gelter
The essence of friluftsliv is difficult to define. It is a concept that can be
found among outdoor people all over the world, but as a specific philoso-
phy, and the use of a special word for it, is unique for Scandinavia, especially
in Norway and Sweden. Here friluftsliv is deeply rooted in the soul of the
people although far from everyone practices it. In Norway friluftsliv is an
important part of most people’s lives and a way of living close to the
beautiful landscapes of the country. In Sweden and Denmark the word
recently has obtained a more technical meaning in outdoor activities and
has lost its philosophical dimension.
History of Friluftsliv
The cultural roots of friluftsliv in Scandinavia come from the self-image of
Scandinavians as a nature loving people (Sandell & Sörlin, 2000). This
image is partly based on these countries’ unpopulated landscape, where
even urban people have free naturevery close by for recreation. This self-
image is also reflected by the unwritten law of “Allemansrätten” (“every-
ones-right”) in Sweden and Norway that allows everyone access to the
land, even private property.The image has its historical origin in the long his-
tory of living in this cold Ultima Thule where skies were already used for
hunting 5200 years ago. The romantic “back-to-nature” movement in the 18th
century, as a reaction against urbanization and industrialization, strongly
influences Scandinavian culture. Through music, poetry, and art this nature-
loving image was introduced to the upper-class society. Successful
Scandinavian explorers like Fritjof Nansen, Sven Hedin, Roald Admunsen,
Adolf Nordenskiöld, and others strengthened this image. But the upper class
had no natural connection to nature; they weren’t hunters, fishers, or farm-
ers. Therefore friluftsliv became a way to realize the ideas of romanticism, to
reconnect with nature and the old Scandinavian outdoor tradition. To
guide the people back to nature friluftsliv was organized and developed by
the worlds first tourist organizations (1868 in Norway and 1885 in Sweden),
and later (in 1892) the Swedish outdoor organization “Friluftsfrämjandet.”
Their goals were to foster people’s good health through skiing and other
nature experiences to better cope with the urban and industrial develop-
ment. During wartime, friluftsliv was used to develop and foster strong peo-
ple for the defence—similar to the origin of the Anglo-American Outward
Bound (Miller,1990). This self-image of a nature-loving people was also rein-
forced in the 1930s during the building of the Swedish socialistic “fol-
hemmet” (folk-home). The increased disposable time for the working class
had to be used for healthy recreation in nature, and friluftsliv was the way.
Friluftsliv: The Scandinavian Philosophyof Outdoor Life79
Today a strong commercialization creates a never-ending flow of new
consumption-lifestyles for outdoor recreation. Activities and equipment now
overshadow the original goal of friluftsliv to be close to nature. For many
people nature is becoming an arena (Devall & Sessions, 1985) to test one-
self and the equipment. This commercialization excludes many from friluft-
sliv today because of the high price of gear, the long journeys to “the right
places,” and the expertise needed for many activities is too high. This
new trend in friluftsliv is in strong contrast with the essence of the word first
used by Henrik Ibsen in an 1859 poem (Ibsen, 1882). He was sitting in a cot-
tage, looking into the stove, and said “. . . this is Friluftsliv for my thoughts.”
The word friluftsliv was thus first used to describe a thought, an idea about
life. Before Ibsen, the word “Frilufts-painting” had been used by Theodore
Rousseau and others in poesophy (poetry and philosophy) of the European
deep Romantic Movement. In a meeting with the Norwegian Tourist asso-
ciation in 1921 Nansen (Dybwad, 1942)talked about friluftsliv as a philos-
ophy and as an alternative for youth to avoid “tourism,” a superficial
acquaintance with nature. He spoke about the ability to co-operate with
nature’s powers and the joy of being in nature. He believed that free
nature was our true home and that friluftsliv was our way back home.
Friluftsliv as an Activity
Friluftsliv has, through organized activities of early outdoor associations and
through commercialization, developed from an original way of thinking to
today’s focus on the activities per se. This focus on activities rather than on
the human relationship to nature has resulted in a modern superficial con-
cept of friluftsliv.Outdoor activities in nature, or a superficial wilderness trip,
is not enough to obtain the deep experience of connectedness to the more-
than-human world. What then is the original concept of the nature experi-
ence we may call genuine friluftsliv?The word friluftsliv implies being in the
open air,the outdoors, thus excluding indoor activities such as indoor
climbing. It also involves free nature. Friluftsliv does not require remote
untouched wilderness but the more away from the urban lifestyle the
greater the experience. Not required are specific activities in nature. There are
many reasons why people go into nature but most have nothing to do with
friluftsliv.Thereare aboriginal people who live in nature. In a philosophical
way they live friluftsliv,but the worddoes not imply an aboriginal life-
style. Then there are loggers, farmers, trappers, scientists, wilderness guides,
outfitters, and other professionals living in nature. Many aspects of their out-
door lives may be common with friluftsliv,but professional goals such as
80 Hans Gelter
exploring, mastering, or conquering nature are not compatible with genuine
friluftsliv.Thus, it is not living in the outdoors per se that is friluftsliv.In fact,
today most people (but not all) who pursue friluftsliv are urban people.
One other important reason for being in nature is to explore its
resources. For hunters, fishers, and gatherers of berries and mushrooms,
nature is a big storehouse waiting to be utilized, if not plundered. These are
popular recreational activities in Scandinavia and often claimed to be
friluftsliv.“Allemansrätten” gives people the right to pick mushrooms and
wild berries everywhere. This “right” to the land and its resources has, to
agreat, degree shaped the nature-oriented attitude among Scandinavians.
But utilizing the natural resources of the land is not genuine friluftsliv,
although great emotional and spiritual experiences may arise through
these activities. Collectors also see nature as a resource to explore for their
collections—be it butterflies or beetles, gemstones or plants, or just the list-
ing of observed birds. The rarer the specimen, the more valuable to the col-
lector. Most collectors possess great knowledge about nature, but bird
watching or collecting shells is not genuine friluftsliv.Similar groups are
nature tourists who, instead of collecting pieces of nature, collect natural
places. The more magnificent the place the greater value the experience.
Tourists often consume places without beoming emotionally connected with
them, as their purpose is simply to have seen it. Tourists usually need
some degree of civilization and comfort and are not always happy with the
natural conditions in nature. Bad weather or the steepness of a slope are nat-
ural features encountered when being outdoors. Fully natural, and accept-
ed by the Frilufts-person, they are often reasons for discomfort and
complaints for the tourist. Friluftsliv involves the unconditional encounter
with naturein the same way as getting to know a person needs an uncon-
ditional meeting, and not just a quick look at each other.It requires con-
nectedness and participation. By not participating one becomes a spectator
and a consumer. Not participating and connecting with nature makes
natureinto a museum to observe, to learn from but not to interact with.
Still others visit nature for their curiosity and interest in how nature
works. They want to take apart features in nature to see what they are and
how they work. These are hobby biologists, curious kids, school classes on
excursions, natural scientists etc. They may know much of nature’s ways,
but only learning “objectively” about nature does not lead to the connect-
edness of genuine friluftsliv.Other categories of people who regularly visit
natureare those who want to obtain aesthetic values from nature. These are
photographers, painters, or simply “spectators” of the landscape. They are
rarely interested in what kind of species they see or the ecology of the place,
Friluftsliv: The Scandinavian Philosophy of Outdoor Life 81
but rather the aesthetic value of the place. Enjoying the aesthetic value of
nature is an important part of friluftsliv but being a spectator of nature does
not necessarily create any connectedness. Others use nature as a sacral place
for meditation and reflection. Nature becomes a kind of church or temple
to build new spiritual or religious energy. Similar to these are stressed, urban
people who in “the silence of nature” slow down and regain their energy.
Many cottage and motorhome owners belong to this group, having their
“wilderness home” as a refuge from urban life. Again, to escape urban life
and gain energy or spiritual power is a very important part of friluftsliv but
without a deeper connectedness nature becomes just a form of therapy.
A growing group of visitors to nature are the new outdoor-activity peo-
ple using nature as a playground. They consume nature as a big coulisse and
arena for their recreation and sport activities, to compete in with them-
selves, or others. Most of them claim they pursue friluftsliv but this is more
like a superficial form of friluftsliv with goals other than genuine friluftsliv.Here
knowledge of nature, and the place beyond how to master it for the sake of
the activity, is usually secondary. The preoccupation with the activity and the
equipment distract them from the genuine experience of friluftsliv.Although
genuine friluftsliv may involve mastering skills like how to travel and survive
even harsh and dangerous environments with different equipment, genuine
friluftsliv is not about conquering or fighting nature. Similar new types of out-
door people claiming they pursue friluftsliv are motorized. With snowmobiles,
ski-dos, water-dos, motor boats, 4x4s, and cross-country motorcycles, they use
nature as a playground for their motorized recreation. Driving a motorized
vehicle, be it a car or snowmobile, can never be regarded as friluftsliv as
you disconnect yourself from nature by using the vehicle. Friluftsliv is about
harmonizing with nature, not disturbing or destroying it. Friluftsliv is not about
consuming experiences, places, or resources, although just by being in a
place will change it and resources consumed. Friluftsliv is not to actively seek
adventures, although adventures and adrenaline kicks may be a natural
part of friluftsliv.In friluftsliv you don’t change natureto gain experience or
take control of it, you don’t build artificial racetracks, or boulder cliffs. In
friluftsliv you may use nature for food and shelter or for your survival, but not
modify nature to suit the outdoor activity. Friluftsliv is not an activity or activ-
ity program with a narrow goal; it is a lifestyle and a philosophy.
Friluftsliv as a Philosophy
Friluftsliv as philosophy is a view of oneself in the more-than-human world,
about finding the way back to an old human, biological lifestyle, but in a new
82 Hans Gelter
context—to move from a techno-life to an eco-life, back to our fundamental
biological ways to relate to nature. In the “pre-civilized” world humans knew
their way in nature as a way of survival. In modern urban life these survival
skills are forgotten, and today most urban people only visit nature as
tourists or consumers. Modern people need to re-learn basic skills, not by
books or instructions, but learn how to relate to the more-than-human
world by experience. In connection with nature we learn how precious
life is—in sharp contrast with the “civilized” life—where life often is a
struggle. Friluftsliv is a paradigm shift away from a dominant “objective”
view of nature, toward an emotional identity and a way of living Arne
Næss’s Deep Ecology.
Genuine friluftsliv also provides a social experience that many people in
our urban seculized lives are missing. When pursuing friluftsliv you often
do things together with friends, like sitting around the campfire, travelling
together, sharing experiences, and being dependent on each other. Friluftsliv
thus recreates the tribal life with the same security of belonging to an
interdependent group. This is a form of human resources and human
wealth we have lost in our urban life, where individuality and survival by
yourself is the standard (Quinn, 1997). Friluftsliv fulfils a basic human
need and thereby creates a sensation of wholeness. This may well be one of
the reasons for the sensation of pleasuresitting around the campfire and just
feeling the strong connectedness within the group and with life.
Today, when people have lost their original home, their place in nature,
security in their connectedness with the world and also with a social
group, they become insecure and afraid. Fear easily develops into aggres-
sion towards foreigners or aggression towards nature and other living
creatures. This increased aggression is released through hard work, sports,
or outdoor recreation activities. Natureoften becomes the victim of this cul-
tural aggression. If, on the contrary, you feel connected to the more-than-
human world, you gain self-esteem, security, and confidence, thereby
decreasing cultural aggression. Connectedness to naturecreates responsi-
bility towards nature and others—a more biophilic lifestyle (Selby, 1996).
Although friluftsliv is a modern escape from urban life to regain phys-
ical and psychic strength, it is not a quick fix for social ills through a form
of wilderness therapy. Genuine friluftliv is a philosophy about personal
development, thus a lifetime process of growing self-esteem, social capa-
bilities and survival skills in, and attitudes towards, the more-than-human
world. Friluftsliv is about love and respect for nature, attitudes one does not
learn reading or teaching, features that can only be learned by experience.
For an outdoor person who has reached familiarity and connectedness to
Friluftsliv: The Scandinavian Philosophy of Outdoor Life 83
nature, nature is never wild and scary, and such a person is at home every-
where in nature regardless of the place on the planet.
Biology of Friluftsliv
Why does genuine friluftsliv create a deep sensation of connectedness with
nature, as well as providing mental and physical pleasure? Here we must
turn to human biology. If we want to find the biological roots for genuine
friluftsliv we have to look past the origin of Western culture, back to pre-civ-
ilized culture, and to the ecological habitat where most of human evolution
has taken place. Humans have evolved as an integrated part of an ecolog-
ical system, in close relationships with other organisms and the environ-
ment, and our human characters are evolved as an adaptation to these
ecological demands and changes. Humans have followed the same rules
and processes that have shaped other organisms in nature. Only by under-
standing these rules and processes that form the life of organisms can we
gain an insight and understanding of our own development and nature.
Human nature is thus adapted to a natural habitat, not to today’s
urban technological world. The natural setting for human evolution,
including the evolution of human senses and the human brain, consists of
fractal structures (Gleick, 1987; Fleishman, Tildesley,&Ball, 1990; Kaufman,
1993) of repetitive patterns that never repeat themselves exactly, and
rhythms of repetitions. Thus our brain is developed in a fractal world of
rhythms. Fractal stimuli from the natural world harmonize with the stim-
uli processing patterns of the brain, creating a sensation of pleasure in such
natural environments. Having a brain working in harmony with its capac-
ity explains the pleasure of looking at the fractal structure of a landscape,
the endless fractal structure and rhythm of waves from the ocean, and the
deep pleasureof looking into the dancing flames of a fire.
The rhythms of natureinclude day rhythm, moon rhythm, seasonal
rhythms, etc., as well as rhythms in patterns and structures. When travel-
ling in nature for a longer period, these rhythms become a natural part of
our daily life. Weeven have internal rhythms, biological clocks that are
evolved to synchronize with the rhythms of nature. Breaking these natural
rhythms cost energy. Electrical energy is needed to break the rhythms of day
and night. Breaking the seasonal rhythm to create green grass in winter and
ice in summer requires much of energy. Breaking straight roads through the
fractal landscape requires energy. Creating monoculture we break the
growing rhythm, which needs enormous amounts of energy in the forms
of fertilizers, pesticides, maintenance, etc. to keep the culture clean.
84 Hans Gelter
David Abram (1996) stresses the importance of the reciprocity between
our senses and the natural world to create our experienced perception of the
...these other shapes and species have coevolved, like ourselves, with the
rest of the shifting earth; their rhythms and forms are composed of layers
upon layers of earlier rhythms, and in engaging them our senses are led
into an inexhaustible depth that echoes that of our own flesh. (p. 63-64)
In our pre-civilized world this reciprocity of our senses and the natural
world created a strong subjectivity between the percepted world and the
human mind, creating the animistic dimension of perception that now
has been lost in modern urban life. In contrast to the fractal world of
nature, our civilized world is non-fractal consisting of straight lines, flat sur-
faces and smooth areas—an environment sub-optimal for our mental pro-
cessing capabilities. This is causing understimulation, stress and
incompatibility in such environments. Humans are adapted to live accord-
ing to the natural rhythms, but lately we have constructed artificial, math-
ematical rhythms determined by mechanical devices. These new rhythms
split the day and the year in exact units independent of the events in
nature. With clock time we have emancipated ourselves from the rhythms
of nature and have violated our biological clocks creating an urban stress,
astress evaporating when returning to the rhythms of nature.
After weeks of canoeing the body and mind settle into a natural
rhythm where breathing, pulse and paddle strokes harmonize in a natural
way. Our rhythms not only come from inside of us, they harmonize with the
surrounding landscape, with the current of the river, the sun and light, the
wind and waves, and when these rhythms interplay we feel a great pleas-
ureof harmony.The same feeling of harmony with the landscape is reached
after days of trekking, wherethe pace harmonizes with the internal and
external environment, and each step is synchronized by our spinal auto pilot
so the mind may become absorbed by the landscape. This synchronization
of internal and external rhythms when travelling for an extended time in
nature is like playing in a samba batucada. When the rhythms are syn-
chronized by all the percussion instruments playing takes no effort—one
is absorbed by the energy of the rhythm. But as soon as the rhythm dishar-
monizes there is a physical and psychic pain and lots of energy and con-
centration are required to get the rhythm back into harmony. Suddenly the
rhythm is back and the music swings again, and there is a feeling of a
dimensional shift to a higher energy level. The music becomes a part of
body and mind in an internal dance of mental energy and external dance
Friluftsliv: The Scandinavian Philosophy of Outdoor Life 85
of musical energy. The asynchronic rhythms of modern urban life create
disharmonies, creating physical and psychic stress which consume much
energy. Therefore when returning to nature and living friluftsliv we regain
the natural rhythms and feel the energy flow into body and mind, lifting us
to a higher energy level, and to the experience of harmony and happiness—
just as in the samba batucada.
Having a brain that after millions of years has developed in a rhyth-
mical and fractal world, we feel as “coming home” when returning to
nature, giving the brain the stimuli it was developed for and explaining our
rewarding feelings of harmony in nature. When looking into a fireplace we
feel the flames alive and attracting our attention. No artificial light, like the
cold mechanical lifeless light of a flashlight, will ever attract us in the
same way. What is the difference between the dead flashlight and the liv-
ing spirit of the flames, if not the fractal rhythms that so much stimulate our
perception? Abram (1996) may have found a biological explanation for our
need to consume artefacts in our lifeless non-fractal world:
In contrast, the mass-produced artifacts of civilization, . . . draw our
senses into a dance that endlessly reiterates itself without variation. To the
sensing body these artifacts are, like all phenomena, animate and even
alive, but their life is profoundly constrained by the specific “functions” for
which they were built. Once our bodies master these functions, the
machine-made objects commonly teach our senses nothing further; they are
unable to surprise us, so we must continually acquire new built objects,
new technologies, the latest model of this or that if we wish to stimulate
ourselves. (p. 64)
In our modern, civilized lifestyle we have also emancipated body and
mind. We do physical work in one place, the factory or the gym, and men-
tal work in another place, the office or on the sofa with television. When the
rhythms of the body and mind do not harmonize it creates a non-harmo-
nizing physical or mental tiredness. In contrast, doing a mental and phys-
ical task synchronously as in friluftsliv,body and mind harmonize and the
tiredness experienced after such a task is as great a pleasure, no matter how
fatiguing it was.
Weoften describe our fundamental needs as “primitive,” “animalistic,”
or “pre-civilized.” This view assumes that humans have undergone an evo-
lutionary change since the rise of our civilization, from a “primitive” to a
“developed” human, implying that we are biologically different today
than 10 000 years ago. This culturephobic view indicates a lack of evolu-
tionary and biological insight. The only difference between people of
today and those living 10 000 years ago is their fundamental philosophy and
cultural context. The time-span in our habitat change from the natural
86 Hans Gelter
setting into the technologically habitat is too short for the evolutionary
processes to permit any major biological adaptations. The differences we
find are new behaviours, new attitudes, new language, and new technol-
ogy, but we have not changed biologically. Neither basic needs nor our
anatomy, physiology and ontology have changed. Our brain’s anatomy and
function are the same as when we lived in the fractal biological world. So
those “primitive” needs are not some old remains from a primitive state,
they are still human basic needs. So when we return to nature through
friluftsliv we do not satisfy our primitive needs—rather our basic human
needs. As long as we deny these basic needs our modern human society will
not become a more humane society. As long as we believe that humans can
adapt biologically to the technological world we have created from an
anthropocentric scientific philosophy, humans, and human society will
suffer from technological stress.
As clearly stressed by modern environmental philosophy (Sessions,
1995; Quinn, 1992, 1997) we cannot return to a “primitive” pre-civilized cul-
ture. Rather we have to recognize basic human needs and use them as
goals for cultural development. Genuine friluftsliv might be a way to let
people discover the pleasure of fulfilling these basic human needs when body
and mind harmonises with the natural world, and thus creating a foundation
for a cultural change away from an anthropocentric philosophy.It is there-
fore important to clearly make a distinction between the philosophy of gen-
uine friluftsliv and the anthropocentric, superficial kind of friluftsliv where
competition, consumption, egoism, and commercialization are its philosophy.
Gardner’s (1983) description of the seven intelligences is a modern re-
discovery of the nature of the human mind as evolved in the biological
world. This realization got lost through Greek philosophy,Cartesian dual-
ism, and the objectifying scientific focus on logical thought. Gardner’s
intelligences show a flexible human brain that is needed for adaptation in
an socio-ecological environment. The different human intelligences have
evolved and are co-ordinated to optimize human survival in the complex
natural world. Gardner’s mathematical-logical intelligence (the ability to
organize thoughts sequentially and logically, to analyse and solve problems,
to see connections) is the base for the modern scientific secular school
together with the verbal-linguistic intelligence (the ability to understand and
express ideas through language, communicative skills, to tell stories of past
experiences, to communicate how to solve problems etc.). Taken together
with the visual-spatial intelligence (the ability to learn through images,
spatial skills, to estimate distances, etc.), it is easy to understand the impor-
tance of these three intelligences for survival in the wilderness. Also of
Friluftsliv: The Scandinavian Philosophy of Outdoor Life 87
great importance in a tribal world (Ross, 1992) are both the interpersonal (the
ability to notice and make discriminations regarding the moods, tempera-
ments, motivations and intentions of others, cooperate, leadership and
group dynamic skills) and the intrapersonal intelligence (one’s access to one’s
feelings, skills of visualization, metacognition, reflection and self-analysis).
In an evolutionary sense the bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence seems obvious
for the survival in the natural environment. The intelligence of mastering dif-
ferent skills and physical activities has a high survival value in the pre-civ-
ilized world. The seventh intelligence, the musical-rhythmical sensitivity to
tone, pitch and rhythm, and the ability to reproduce them do not seem obvi-
ous for human survival. But to the hunter the knowledge of alarm calls of
birds and other animals, and the ability to distinguish and copy different ani-
mal sounds is an important skill. This ability extends the hunters senses to
include those of other species to determine the presence of prey or predator;
thus reading sounds in the environment is a highly evolutionary skill. In an
animistic tribal world the interpretation and sensitivity of rhythms of the
internal and external world, as well as the interpretation and presentation
of these in the form of dances and songs, is an important skill for survival
(Abram, 1996). By chants, dances, tricks, etc., the shamans interpreted and
presented the ecological conditions for the tribe, which had great importance
for the tribal survival. Today we areno longer trained to listen to faint
nuances or use these skills, as we in the urban noise have closed our sens-
es as an adaptation and habituation to an urban noisy life.
Gardner’s (1983) different intelligences can thus be translated to evo-
lutionary fitness components of the human mind, and have probably
strongly influenced the evolution of the human brain. In today’s urban
world these different aspects of human intelligences areemancipated and
some are regarded moreimportant than others. This situation again creates
amental disharmony, absorbing energy like the unsynchronized samba
batucada. By leaving this unharmonized urban lifestyle through pursuing
friluftsliv,Gardner’s different aspects of the human mind can again funci-
ton harmoniously, giving a sensation of pleasure and happiness. Thus
friluftsliv,by involving all senses, and in accordance with Gardner’s different
intelligences and the body and mind, fulfil basic human needs as well as
restore mental and physical harmony. In our urban settings we try to ful-
fil this harmonization of the different human needs by artificial means such
as drugs, alcohol, consumption, over training, etc., but we create frustration,
diseases of boredom, belonginglessness and meaninglessness. The “qual-
ity of life” we seek, will not however be found in civilized urban culture,
but in our basic biological functions, our natural ecological habitat, in
88 Hans Gelter
nature as an unstructured fractal and complex environment, in our true
Studies made by Grahn, Mårtensson, Lindblad, Nilsson, and Ekman
(1997) of children’s preferred play environments show that children prefer
free nature to artificial environments. We feel physically well playing in nat-
ural complex movements, and this research has shown a connection
between physical and intellectual development. Children who spend lot of
time in natural settings develop better, both physically and mentally, feel
better, find it easier to concentrate, and suffer less from stress, allergies, etc.
All this supports the idea that nature is the natural habitat even for mod-
ern urban people. Today most humans live in an uninteresting and unin-
spiring artificial world for the human mind and body. Urban life does
not stimulate all of our senses and our different intelligences, or our phys-
ical abilities; a form of stress and restlessness is created. Our natural habi-
tat probably consists of a complex patchy environment with different
biotopes to find food in, open areas to find prey, and shelters to hide in
(Grahn, 1992). Maybe that’s why most of us find a complex natural sur-
rounding more aesthetic than an urban or a monocultural setting.
There may also be an evolutionary survival explanation for the close
connection between sensory and memory processing in the limbic system.
Abram (1996) suggests a close interaction between the sensory interpretation
of the world and the memory in the Australian aboriginal’s Dreamtime.
Dreaming songs used by aboriginals as oral maps when travelling the arid
landscape of Australia function as memory tools, oral means of recalling
viable routes through the harsh environment. In these Dreaming songs the
landscape itself provides the visual clues for remembering the Dreamtime-
stories that guide the tribe to resources of water, shelters, and other landscape
features important for their survival, providing a form of “ecological mem-
ory” (Jardine, 1998). Thus the landscape directly interferes, through the lim-
bic system, with the memories that are essential for survival. This may be one
explanation for the deep spiritual experience we feel when we let the
landscape subjectively integrate with our limbic system. It is a basic human
feature for survival that is lost in our modern objective culture. The strong
feelings experienced when in wilderness may be nothing more than fun-
damental survival mechanisms, when the landscape directly interferes
with the brain’s memory mechanisms, and the synchronization of the
landscape with the brain is experienced as a deep spiritual experience.
As we return to our senses, we gradually discover our sensory perceptions
to be simply our part of a vast, interpenetrating webwork of perceptions
and sensations borne by our countless other bodies . . . This interwined web
of experience is, of cause, the “life-world”. . . nothing other than the
Friluftsliv: The Scandinavian Philosophy of Outdoor Life 89
biosphere—the matrix of earthly life in which we ourselves are embedded
....the biosphere as it is experienced and lived from within by the intel-
ligent body—by the attentive human animal who is entirely a part of the
world that he, or she, experiences. (Abram, 1996, p. 65)
Friluftsliv in Education
Friluftsliv may have the same ultimate goal as environmental education, but
does not use any educational institution as educational aid, except nature
itself—instead friluftsliv uses wilderness as the university. The overall goal
for both would be a healthy soul in a healthy body in a healthy society in
ahealthy world, where respect and responsibility would be the new foun-
dation of human interactions.
Although friluftsliv may be viewed as a form of environmental edu-
cation, it is an education without a curriculum. Friluftsliv is not outdoor
education. Outdoor education has specific goals described as a place (nat-
ural environment), a subject (ecological processes) and a reason (resource
stewardship) for learning (Priest, 1990). Friluftsliv is more like a game (Isberg,
1995). To become absorbed by a game one needs imagination and fantasy,
which shift you to another level of consciousness. Tosee that every rock, tree
or leaf has its own form and identity, has its own history to tell and its own
right to exist, requires a higher level of consciousness and fantasy. Friluftsliv
it is not about teaching and lecturing or being on excursions. But it involves
asort of education, learning the ways of yourself and the place in the more-
than-human world and learning the ways of every creature and phenome-
non you meet on your journey through life. Traditional environmental
education (Weston, 1996) and natural sciences enrich and deepen the expe-
riences of friluftsliv,but in friluftsliv the goal is not to become an expert nat-
uralist. Rather friluftsliv is a link between natural history and philosophy,
linking the knowledge of yourself and the surroundings into the under-
standing of the world. Although friluftsliv is on the curriculum in
Scandinavian and many other educational systems, its goal is usually that
of outdoor education (Priest, 1990) and not the deeper philosophical goals
of genuine friluftliv.
Modern pedagogic theory often lack roots in human biology and in
humans as a product of the evolutionary and ecological processes. In most
cases pedagogics only focuson the social situation under analysis. Most
pedagogic theory has its roots in a Cartesian dualistic and anthropocentric phi-
losophy, denying or ignoring the spiritual connectedness of humans with the
more-than-human world. Thus traditional environmental education has an
objectifying scientific approach sustaining our disconnectedness with the
90 Hans Gelter
... Although outdoor recreation is performed globally, the notion of friluftsliv has a special significance; linked with the right of public access, outdoor recreation as a cultural practice is significant to the image and self-identity of Scandinavians. Its roots can be traced back to the romanticism of the eighteenth century and reactions to industrialisation and urbanisation (Gelter, 2000). Varley and Semple (2015) link friluftsliv to the more recent notion of "slow adventure", focusing on the "experiential dimension rather than the chore of getting to the destination" (p. ...
... The second motive also reflects an explication of norms, as hikers saw offline time as a way to realise the true value of friluftsliv/hytteliv (Gelter, 2000;Vittersø, 2007). Hikers referred to well-documented ideals of being outdoors during the day, appreciating nature without technological disturbances, and doing something cosy together in the evening rather than being separated by individual screens. ...
Full-text available
Digitalisation is a major transformative factor in tourism, yet studies show that holidaymakers are ambivalent about smartphone and Internet use. This study explores screen and digital ambivalence in nature-based tourism in and around the huts and routes of the Norwegian Trekking Association. While digital ambivalence describes ambiguous sentiments over being constantly connected, screen ambivalence covers mixed feelings regarding the presence of smartphones and screens. Methodologically, this qualitative study combined observations at 3 offline sites with an analysis of 30 field dialogues. The study found that hikers were highly aware of the positive and negative functions of digital media. Offline tourism may intensify the experience of taking a break, realising what tourists perceive to be the true nature of friluftsliv [outdoor life], heighten the sense of adventure and self-reliance. However, tensions concerning safety, missing social communication, and obstacles to posting on social media were also evident. This study contributes to the limited research on digital disconnection and offers new insights into the experiential qualities of offline holidays. Few studies have mapped tourist experiences in specific offline sites, and this study contributes to nature-based tourism research by showing how local norms mitigate tensions and nudge hikers towards positive interpretations of being digital-free.
... He contends that issues such as cultural sensitivity and awareness of context require greater attention in the literature, training and practice of FS. In terms of cultural context, Gelter (2000) points to the Scandinavian philosophy of 'Friluftsliv' which supports the ideals of freedom in nature and a spiritual connectedness to the landscape. ...
Full-text available
Over the last decade, Forest School (FS) has become a more common part of the educational landscape both in Ireland and in the UK. This paper aims to provide a timely review of research related to FS and begins by situating FS in the broader context of nature-based education and play, before outlining the defining principles and features of FS. The authors then examine the research base for the purported benefits of FS, consider weaknesses of the evidence base and discuss other criticisms that have been levelled at FS. While the prima facie research provides support for the benefits of forest schooling, the conclusions that can be drawn from the research may be limited due to the identified weaknesses of some of the research to date and a somewhat underdeveloped theoretical framework. The authors conclude that additional studies of high quality are required in order to understand the place of FS in the spectrum of pedagogical frameworks, and the potential of FS in the context of the current discourse on wellbeing in education. A number of the big questions that remain in terms of FS as a useful and evidence-based approach in education are discussed.
... Les représentations de la nature sauvage comme réalité géographique et écologique sont fondées sur un imaginaire et des pratiques voisines de celles que l'on retrouve dans les pays où la notion de wilderness s'est structurée, la notion wilderness faisant partie de la mythologie et de la culture scandinave (Feldt, 2012). En Scandinavie, le principe de "friluftsliv" 51 (littéralement "vie au grand air") (Sandell 2012), présente ainsi une certaine analogie avec l'expérience ou la conception de la wilderness américaine, puisqu'il décrit un mode de vie fondé sur l'expérience de la liberté dans la nature et une grande connectivité avec cette dernière (Gelter 2000). Cette tradition se retrouve dans toutes les déclinaisons nationales du droit au libre accès à la nature (allemansrätten en Suède, jokamiehenoikeus en Finlande, allemannsretten en Norvège, almannaréttur en Islande, igaüheõigus en Estonie ou encore allemandsretten au Danemark) (Girault 2018). ...
This PhD. focuses on the conditions of protection of the wilderness in Europe, which has become a central concept in the field of environmental conservation. Such areas are considered by their promoters as a means to respond to the contemporary major ecological challenges (e.g. battle against climate change, global biodiversity loss). In 2009, the European Parliament adopted a resolution encouraging State Members to designate large areas in a natural state in which all major human interference must be avoided. Since the end of the 2000s, many wilderness initiatives have emerged at various scales (i.e. local, national, international) across Europe. The aim of this research is to study the requirements for implementing wilderness protection strategies across Europe in di erent cultural and socio-ecological contexts and the limitations that emerge from these territories. Using a qualitative methodology, semi-structured interviews were conducted in the UK, the Netherlands and France, as well as with actors with European influence. This thesis shows that many stakeholders, mainly from NGOs, are utilizing this concept throughout Europe and are trying to implement its applications in different areas. These attempts could provide feedback on the issues that must be addressed and on the technical requirements necessary when carrying out wilderness projects. However, because the concept of wilderness is a cultural construct, it is difficult to grasp and to transpose. The difficulty to obtain a universal definition of the notion has led to the development of substitute concepts closer to the realities on the field (e.g. wild land, rewilding, free evolution), which result in the implementation of various strategies whose common goal is to promote the recovery of natural processes. Wilderness, shaped by local socio-ecological conditions, thus appears to be a means of rethinking nature protection policies at national and European levels, but also of reinventing the relationship between humans and non-humans.
... For example, in Sweden and in Norway, a special content exists: friluftsliv (Gurholt 2008). It means getting outdoors, mostly identified as a simple way of life to help people rediscover the natural world, in other words, an outdoors lifestyle; and it plays an important role in environmental education too (Gelter 2000). In other countries of the world, OE takes place in very different ways, levels and frequency. ...
Full-text available
The acceptance of a diverse world begins with recognition at an early stage in life. However, not everyone steps out of their home with an empathic approach and this is why intercultural education should start as early as possible. The main objective of the study is to introduce the opportunities inherent in fairy tales from the perspective of intercultural education via the introduction of fairy tales dealing with multiple aspects of being different; and to introduce the practices applied in the Hungarian educational environment. The tales are analyzed with the method of content analysis, with special respect to diversity and cultural differences; then their educational applicability is analyzed based on the conclusions that can be drawn. The paper introduces the threats and opportunities of applying tales in intercultural education at a very young age, suggesting fairy tales to be used actively, but with suitable professionalism.
... The same fraternity that makes it possible "for so many millions of people not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings" (Anderson, 2006, p. 6-7), is extended to the national environment. This is particularly true for Norway, which gained national autonomy in 1905 and made friluftsliv a matter of national pride, an element that characterizes Norwegian identity (Gelter, 2000). ...
Full-text available
This article poses, and attempts to answer, two correlated questions: (1) Is nationalism, the dominant ideology in our world of nation-states, compatible with the struggle to halt or minimize climate change and related environmental catastrophes? and (2) Which form(s) of government, whether or not informed by nationalist ideology, could better address the most serious threat to human life that currently appears on the horizon? This article puts forward the claim that while the former question has only recently begun to be explored in a few essays and articles devoted to analyzing the linkages between nationalism and climate change, the latter remains unexplored. Attempting to fill this gap, we investigate case studies of exemplary nation-states that periodically scored the highest in the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) and the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI): Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark), Switzerland, and Germany. Their cities received environmental awards (i.e., the European Green Capital Award) and registered the highest levels in terms of citizen satisfaction. The goal is to identify factors and (pre)conditions that make forms of "green nationalism" possible.
Full-text available
What can theories of nationalism and the nation-state tell us about climate change? Much of the available literature, including works by prominent thinkers Ulrich Beck and Bruno Latour, identify it as a collective global challenge rather than a local and national one. But is it really so? This article develops an original theoretical framework integrating the theory of “reflexive modernity”, theories of nationalism, and case studies of green nation-states. The goal is to change the observation point and search for original solutions to the climate crisis. Building on this theoretical framework, this study puts forward the following claims: (1) climate change is undeniably a global phenomenon, but its causes are national. It can be traced back to a small number of top polluting nation-states (the US, China, Russia, India, Japan and EU28) whose historical share of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, the main cause for global warming, surpasses 74%; (2) Most of these nation-states are entrenched in Resource Nationalism (RN), a form of nationalism that sees the environment as a resource to exploit; (3) there exist forms of sustainable nationalism, which this study conceptualizes as Reflexive Green Nationalism (RGN); (4) the solution to climate change is local rather than global. It depends on top polluters' capacity to re-modernize and develop RGN; and (5) according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, if emissions are not reduced by 43% by 2030, the world is likely to cross the tipping point into a global climate catastrophe. Therefore, updating these nation-states and their ideology to more sustainable forms is humanity's best shot at halting the climate crisis.
This chapter draws on new-materialist approaches to challenge the perceived ‘fixity’ of outdoor space in outdoor education. Through a case study of the Outward Bound Trust, Hickman Dunne explores how landscapes (and young people) are (re)created through memory, social relations and embodied interactions, and therefore always ‘becoming’ in relation to each other. The discussion highlights the agency of land and non-human matter, and the role of instructors in guiding embodied practices and memories of outdoor places. Hickman Dunne also seeks to promote reflection for those working in these pedagogical contexts by focusing on how outdoor experiences are differentially shaped by body-place memories and habits, concluding with a call to address dominant perceptions and ‘productions’ of nature and push the boundaries of more inclusive educational practice.
Eco-anxiety is the experience of persistent feelings of anxiety regarding degradation of our natural environment. Building upon the work of existential psychologists and our own Eco-Existential Positive Psychology framework, we consider how eco-anxiety engenders the existential anxieties of identity, happiness, meaning, death, freedom, and isolation. Regarding identity, ever-shrinking biodiversity and the threat this poses to the existence of our species has made us contemplate our nonbeing, and with that our identity as beings. Our happiness, too, is ill-affected by reduced opportunities to engage with thriving ecosystems as a result of climate crises. Our sense of coherence, connectedness, and continuity—and therefore, meaning in life—is diminished as landscapes and ecosystems that we have become attached to over time become degraded and disrupted. Mounting environmental crises conjure fears of death, including the possible mortality of our human species as a collective. While nature has long been associated with freedom of human behavior and spirit, a broken human–nature relationship leads to an infringement on our autonomy. Finally, the experience of eco-anxiety appears to be a solitary one, heightening our sense of isolation. We discuss implications of these existential threats, emphasizing that ecoanxiety is something with which we need to cope and live.