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What does wellness look like in other countries?

Are you getting enough friluftsliv in your life? Have you exercised your wabi-sabi lately? Do you suspect I’m just making up gibberish words?

Recently, a fascinating article from Mother Nature Network described seven cultural concepts that aren’t well-known in the U.S. Reading through them, there were three in particular that synced up with my concept of wellness.

From Norway, Japan, and Denmark, these practices inspire me to add small moments of beauty and reflection to my days.


Friluftsliv translates literally from Norwegian as “free air life.” At its core, this is the idea that being in nature is good for the mind and spirit.

The term evokes images of wilderness adventure, but also encompasses appreciating the outdoors in simple ways. Practicing friluftsliv might involve camping out, visiting a neighborhood park, or going stargazing one night. It doesn’t require special equipment or skills, and is enjoyed by people of all ages and fitness levels.

For me, friluftsliv takes the form of a commitment to finally buy a used bicycle and get riding on the trails near my house. For you, it might be an exciting whitewater rafting trip or a relaxing picnic beneath a tree in your own backyard.


The concept of wabi-sabi comes from Japan. It is a way of life that finds beauty within imperfection and focuses on accepting the natural cycles of growth and decay. As American poet Jack Gilbert once described it,

“The Japanese think it strange we paint our old wooden houses when it takes so long to find the wabi in them. They prefer the bonsai tree after the valiant blossoming is over, the leaves fallen. […] Bareness reveals a merit born in the […] struggling.”

This philosophy of embracing the inevitable toll of time can be applied to chipped dishes, ragged teddy bears, even our own well-used bodies. I find it to be an exercise in mindfulness: what’s really valuable? What’s truly beautiful?

These days, I sometimes catch myself engaging in wabi-sabi by looking at objects and trying to imagine the stories behind their unique “flaws.”


Hygge originates in Denmark, which is regularly ranked as one of the happiest places in the world. The interesting thing is, Denmark is also known for long, dark winters. How do its inhabitants get through the season with their good humor intact?

The answer is that funny word: hygge. Loosely translated as “coziness” and “togetherness,” hygge is a state of mind that manifests itself in comfort, warmth, and light.

This concept is so vital to the Danish way of life that VisitDenmark, the country’s tourism website, includes this lovely description:

“The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Friends and family — that’s hygge too. And let’s not forget the eating and drinking — preferably sitting around the table for hours on end discussing the big and small things in life.”

My weeks tend to fly past me as I sprint from work to appointments to the store back to my desk for study time. Sundays, though, are always reserved for what I now know is a celebration of this mindset.

My family usually sleeps in, I cook a big pancake breakfast, and then we take our dogs on a long, rambling walk. Later—still in comfy house clothes—we curl up in the living room for endless hours of reading, craft time, and our favorite TV shows. It really is amazing how that one day sets us up for good moods during the rest of each hectic week.

– Jennie Saia, Contributing Editor