It is hard to describe the feeling that one gets when stepping into this magical little country about three quarters the size of California. It is fresh, clean, idyllic, simple, dramatic, breathtakingly beautiful, majestic, rough, hardy and craggy. It is no wonder Norway is on the top of the list of countries with the “Highest Quality of Life.”
I just returned from a trip to Norway. My first.
Something about this country grabs a hold and pulls you in. It’s hard to resist a land and people that feel so thoroughly authentic. Here it’s impossible to miss the message of a lifestyle in which old and young thrive.
Lifestyle is everything.
How we age. How quickly we wrinkle and sag. How quickly (and if) we succumb to illness and chronic disease is now believed – according to all the lastest scientific research – to hinge almost entirely on lifestyle. And this country provides many lessons . . .
Lesson number 1 – Family first.
My mother was born in Eikeland, a tiny community on the southern coast of Norway. (One road takes you in and ends rather abruptly at the sea. There isn’t even a turnaround.)
What I remember most about mom was her longing to revisit her home. She hardly knew the place – she left when she was 3, yet she had a deep connection.
Norway is all about family and connection. I visited second cousins. This was our first meeting. Three generations in the same community – a common practice here.
Families are deeply connected and see each other regularly. They hike together, often dine together, relax in the outdoors, and forage for mushrooms and wild edible stuff.
Papa regularly motors his antique wooden skiff across the fjord to visit his daughter and grandchildren and bring them a mackerel or two he caught on his way.
Norwegian families are valued. No, they’re cherished. Disagreements seem nonexistent. You don’t feel underlying tensions or resentments. It’s all good. The local communities even publish books of the area families and homes with stories, histories, and genealogies dating back as far as they can go.
Lesson number 2 – Smaller is better.
Nothing in Norway is “super-sized”. Not drinks, coffee, sodas (which most don’t even consume), dinner servings, homes, cars, roads, meals, beds, buildings . . . nothing.
Coffee mugs are tiny and hold just a little under seven ounces. Cappuccino comes in a mug about a third the size of a typical Starbucks. Cheese plates come with tiny slices of the most exotic tasting stuff you can imagine – most from the local goats. You don’t need much to satisfy.
A typical dinner plate in Norway would look sparse compared to the monstrous restaurant meals served here.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons the majority of Norwegians are lean.
Lesson number 3 – Never think you’re better.
Norwegian women are striking but natural. You’d be hard pressed to see a Chanel purse or Louboutin pumps strolling down Bogstadveien, one of Oslo’s main shopping streets.
There is a custom here called janteloven, an unwritten rule that frowns on haughtiness or thinking you’re better than another. They simply don’t show off.
Most dress simply, neatly, casually chic. They’re not bumpkins, they’re smart, savvy and they’re real. They’re not into overdoing or stressing about what to wear. They’re about what works, and what looks and feels good to them.
Lesson number 4 – make the best of what you have.
On a boating excursion on Aurlandsfjord, I spotted a little white house with some small out buildings way, way up . . . . About 800 meters above us. It was perched on a rocky cliff with no obvious road leading in.
“How the hell do you get up there?” I asked our guide.
She laughed and relayed the story . . .
The owner of the place is a teacher in the village who must have liked the vantage point this location provided (see photo) and he and his family summer in that little home, hiking up the mountain on switchbacks, cliffs and rocky terrain – the thought of which gave me an uncomfortable case of the butterflies!
The owner gets his provisions in town and hikes them up the mountain. He’s even rigged up a zip-line to hoist up the things too heavy to carry and, remarkably, turned this into the local B&B for the hardy travelers.
Lesson number 5 – Live Simply.
Life in Norway is uncomplicated, unstressed, and relaxed. They don’t work 24/7. They wouldn’t think of it. Most leave their workplace around 5:00 (and they don’t take their work home) so they can get home to hike, swim, walk, climb, bike, paddle, or ski – you name it. These people are physical, hardy and fit – and it shows.
Lesson number 6 – Get outside!
Norwegians are nature worshipers who love the outdoors and seem to intuitively sense the healing quality of nature. If they are not at work, they’re outside. It’s a way of life here.
As infants my mother would bundle us up and take us out in the dead of winter for a daily dose of icy cold fresh air.
Indeed, nature is the ultimate healer, calming, soothing, realigning sleep rhythms, diminishing depression, and lifting our spirits.
Lesson number 7 – Age is just a number.
In Norway most elderly people live in their own homes often near their families. They are active and vital well into their 90’s and don’t think much about their age or that getting older might present restrictions.
I remember my “tante” (aunt) Helene. She had a grip like a man, a hug like a bear, a mind like a sharp whip, and opinions on life and living that she was happy to share – whether you wanted to hear them or not!
She lived on her own well into her 90’s. And if anyone had even suggested moving her to a nursing facility, she would have physically thrown them out the door. At 90 she was quite capable of doing just that!
The elderly here are no different than the younger folk. They participate in all the same activities. They’re not tucked away. They’re not coddled or waited on. They take care of themselves and are an integral part of the community and family life.
(92-year old papa, boating across the fjord)
Something to think about . . .
How we live our lives is a choice. Striving, staying “crazy busy”, rushing, pushing, working 60 or 80 hours a week, hauling ourselves out of bed in the wee hours of the morning to get that workout in . . . all takes a toll on the body.
One week in this little country sent a clear message that there just might be another way – one that resonates deeply with our natural human needs for community, love, connection, movement, pleasure and relaxation. The stuff of life many of us have long forgotten.