“These are the enterprising folks who can name a bookcase ‘git’ with a straight face.”
The Scandinavians are full of bright ideas. Thankfully, one of their best is already heading our way...
YOU MAY ALREADY have heard of the word ‘hygge’. If you haven’t, you’ll hear it a lot more at Christmas because Christmas is very hygge. It’s a Scandinavian word, but it means the opposite of Scandi Noir. Instead of bleak snowy cityscapes, tortured souls and violent murder, it means firelight, cosiness, cuddles (It’s where we get the word ‘hug’ from). All that good if slightly schmaltzy stuff.
The Scandinavians are famed for their lexical inventiveness. These are the people after all who gave us ‘ombudsman’ and ‘maelstrom’ (two faves of mine) and they are, lest we forget, the enterprising folks who can name a bookcase ‘git’ with a straight face. Now, after ‘ hygge’, the Swedes and the Norwegians are arguing, in a very civilised way naturally, about which of them gave us another excellent word for ‘wellbeing’ and its associated notions.
‘ Friluftsliv’ literally means ‘free air life’ but the spirit of it is ‘unwinding in the outdoors’ or ‘relaxing with nature’. Like hygge, it has been a defining and important part of Scandinavian culture for many years. I visit Norway each spring and have always been struck by how family recreation is built around physical activity in the outdoors. Even in the depths of winter, a Norwegian family consider it a wasted weekend if they haven’t been for a stomp or taken the sledge up to the hills.
Now we too are starting to get wise to the joys of friluftsliv. As you’ll have read earlier in this magazine, it has arrived, after a fashion, in Shetland, where GPs have begun to prescribe ‘nature’. From now on, these GPs can prescribe ‘nature’ as part of their patients’ treatment. (It’s just for Shetlanders. There are no prescriptions for stays at the Scalloway Hotel.)
I don’t have to tell you how good for you getting out there is. But it’s nice to see our passion getting official. Studies confirm that walking in the open air reduces the risk of heart disease and strokes, diabetes and cancer. But we know that getting out there can be a balm to a troubled mind, reducing anxiety and helping us sleep. When I climb a hill, however small, I literally get the stresses of life ‘in perspective’.
Wainwright put it well when he said of his favourite fell: “a man could forget a raging toothache on Hay Stacks”. Gyms are fine, but there’s no substitute for feeling the wind on your face or hearing leaves crunch underfoot.
Of course, Shetland has all this medicine in easy and abundant supply. As local GP Mark Macauley told the New Statesman: “We’re lucky here, as nature is outside our front doors. It howls around the eaves of our houses – the natural world in Shetland doesn’t sit and wait for you to go out looking for it. And there’s room for a lot more people out there.” This is true. But we all have a space somewhere nearby – a park, a piece of woodland – where we can escape to. Macauley makes the point that “frequently, the resolution of some distracting difficulty has come to me whilst outside thinking about something else.”
I call it “taking a piece for a walk”. If I’m stuck on how to begin or end or structure something, I’ll walk it around the park or the woods. The sheer act of moving in clear light and open air often unlocks something. When I’m watching the TV news, or perhaps reading the latest Tweet from the US President, I often disappear mentally to Shetland, to feel the wind and rain come howling at me over Eshaness, or watch the skuas on St Ninians, or the puffins on Sumburgh Head, and even just being there in my head helps.
But the real thing is even better. And now it really is just what the doctor ordered.
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