ES­CAP­ING COL­UMN Em­brac­ing Scan­di­na­vian val­ues in all as­pects of life.

What life lessons can our Scandi cousins teach us?

In the Moment - - Contents - Words: Sian Lewis / Il­lus­tra­tion: Brit­tany Mo­lineux

T he Scan­di­na­vian good life is re­ally hav­ing a mo­ment, isn’t it? I doubt I need to tell you about hygge, the ne Dan­ish art of keep­ing things cosy and com­fort­ing with cud­dly jumpers, can­dles and crack­ling res in the dark win­ter. And have you heard of Swedish lagom (bal­anc­ing life so that there’s just enough of ev­ery­thing you need), or do you prac­tise ka (mak­ing time for reg­u­lar co ee and cake dates with friends)?

What ex­actly is it about the way of life of Europe’s cold north­ern realms that’s so con­ducive to whole­some, happy habits? I’ve vis­ited, and fallen in love with, all of Scan­di­navia, but the coun­try I know best is Fin­land, where a deep-set con­nec­tion to na­ture runs through daily life. In Fin­land there is a law called the Every­man’s Right, al­low­ing any­one to roam through the land freely; to for­age for wild food, to walk in any for­est. These val­ues mean that Fin­nish chil­dren grow up with a com­pre­hen­sive un­der­stand­ing of the nat­u­ral world around them. On my last trip to the birth­place of the Moomins I stayed with Saara and her fam­ily in the coun­try­side. Her seven-year-old daugh­ter, Anni, knew how to nd and pick all the ed­i­ble berries that grew on the for­est oor, and we en­joyed them af­ter din­ner, along with lash­ings of hot co ee boiled over the re.

As well as this a nity for the for­est, Finns also feel a con­nec­tion to wa­ter. Af­ter all, there are over 80,000 lakes in Fin­land, and so much space that most fam­i­lies have a small lake­side cabin they can escape to, even if they live in a city. Na­ture and the hu­man body are both linked, and both re­spected, in mod­ern Scan­di­navia. The an­cient rit­ual of the sauna is a key part of fam­ily life, and saunas are al­ways taken naked.

Out­side Saara’s for­est cabin was a tiny wood hut, red up to a swel­ter­ing heat by a log re. The whole fam­ily piled in (Saara, her daugh­ters, her sis­ter, her mother, the dog and I) and when we got too hot we all ran naked down the lit­tle wooden jetty to par­take in the nal part of this age-old pu­ri­fy­ing process – jump­ing into the freez­ing wa­ter of the lake. You can’t get a bet­ter les­son in what a nor­mal, healthy hu­man body looks like than by swap­ping the pages of fash­ion mag­a­zines for the sight of naked bod­ies of all ages.

Gen­der equal­ity, too, feels di er­ent in Scan­di­navia. It seems more like the sta­tus quo, rather than an on­go­ing bat­tle. In Stock­holm, the squares and cafés are full of

‘latte pa­pas’ – dads who have taken pa­ter­nity leave to push strollers and drink co ee with their friends while their baby’s ma­mas go back to work.

I’ve only seen Fin­land and Swe­den in the lovely, long days of sum­mer, when the sun barely dips down be­low the hori­zon. But I’ve been to Nor­way in the freez­ing rains and short, dark days of De­cem­ber, and I still found the Scandi way of life as­ton­ish­ingly at­trac­tive. In the fjord city of Ber­gen, life is about good bal­ance and good cheer to drive away the doldrums of the dark. Lo­cals take ad­van­tage of the few day­light hours to hike in the for­est parks above the city, then at night they sit with friends in warm, can­dlelit restau­rants eat­ing reindeer meat, pota­toes and lin­gonberry jam, washed down with a beer or two.

I may not live in the lands be­low the Arc­tic Cir­cle but my trav­els there have in­spired me to take some mind­ful, health­ful habits to heart. Time spent in na­ture. Time spent with friends. Be­ing open with thoughts and feel­ings. Re­spect­ing the strength and beauty of the hu­man body. Eat­ing loads of cloud­berry jam for tea while wear­ing a re­ally great knit­ted jumper! I reckon I’m tick­ing all of those o at the mo­ment – now I just need to nd my­self a lake­side cabin and a latte papa.

Sian Lewis is a free­lance travel writer and the edi­tor of The Girl Out­doors (www.the­girlout­, a blog for

any­one in search of a lit­tle ad­ven­ture.

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