🍃 Leaders, let’s go outside.

Laurence McCahill
The Happy Startup School
6 min readMar 31

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Move over, hygge. There’s a new Scandinavian concept to embrace, and it will give you more of a natural high than candles and cushions ever could.

Photo taken at Alptitude leadership retreat

Translated as ‘free-air living’, friluftsliv (pronounced free-loofts-liew) isn’t just a word. It can’t be encapsulated by one, single activity, either. It’s an entire, and entirely wholesome, Scandi philosophy that will see you gently connecting to the outdoors, in all weathers, wherever you are in the world.

And it’s a concept that promises to reinvigorate both body and soul.

The term dates back to an 1859 poem by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.

In ‘On the Heights’, Ibsen praises the spiritual and mental benefits of immersing oneself in natural surroundings. Today, a whole body of scientific research backs up what Ibsen knew instinctively.

Scandinavians embraced the concept wholeheartedly. The right to roam, or ‘allemannsretten’, is enshrined in Norwegian law, while companies in Sweden have built friluftsliv into their working week.

You can even take a degree in it at the University of South-Eastern Norway.

Extreme it isn’t

Let’s begin with what friluftsliv is not. It’s not high-octane sports like skiing or snowboarding, or sweating out a personal best on a jog or bike ride. In its essence, friluftsliv is more experiential than competitive. In fact, the Swedish government defines it as:

Spending time outside for personal wellness and to experience nature without pressure, or to achieve or compete.

More than spending time in nature, it’s disconnecting from the everyday — from stress, work and normal life — but without doing anything in particular.

How often as founders or leaders do we ever do that? Give ourselves permission to do nothing, to play… to just be.

It encompasses everything from an open-air swim, camping out in your back garden, pottering around the woods with a stick, or just a hot chocolate on the beach while you watch the waves.

And the friluftsliv philosophy doesn’t stop just because it’s a bit drizzly outside. It’s so engrained in the culture that it’s practised daily in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, and Denmark, places that are much darker and colder than the UK in winter, but yet people don’t seem to experience seasonal depression like we do, since they’re consistently rated some of the happiest places in the world.

Rather than shying away from the elements, it’s about embracing the opportunities offered by each season — kayaking in the summer, foraging in the autumn, chatting around a campfire on a cold winter night.

Like hygge for the outdoors, there’s a way to do friluftsliv even if you live in the grittiest of urban settings, too. Just look up and watch the stars, or stop to listen to the birds.

At a time when it’s easier than ever to shut ourselves away from the world, embracing friluftsliv can help us to stay connected. To nature. To others.

It’s a concept we’ve practised every year at Alptitude going back to 2015, long before we even realised it actually had a name and an entire philosophy behind it.

It’s long been our mission to show that great nature experiences don’t need to be anything extreme. In fact, the lessons learned at Alptitude can become a lifestyle that becomes ingrained within you.

And crucially, make you a better leader.

We go outside. A lot.

When humans go outside, they thrive. We even sleep better when our circadian rhythm is allowed to sync with the natural light-dark cycle. And at Alptitude, most things take place with a side order of fresh air. When we get out in nature and breathe in fresh air we instantly feel better for it — somehow our problems become lighter. Our senses awaken, life somehow seems simpler and this frees up our mind to think more expansively.

We make deep connections with other people.

Human beings are social creatures and we need each other to provide us with a sense of connection and purpose. The more disconnected we are, the unhappier we become. Loneliness can quickly lead to depression. At Alptitude strangers become friends in days, and although there is a wildly diverse group of people from all walks of life and cultures, we’re each bound together by an open mindset and shared desire to make a positive dent in the world.

We slow down.

Mind-clearing, spirit-lifting. At Alptitude, we’re not ambitious about how far or fast we are moving. Most of us lead busy lives, forever bombarded with distractions and demands on our time. At Alptitude there is plenty of ‘me’ time — the option of yoga, pilates, Qi Gong, swimming, a massage, sauna or a silent walk. And even though we are often in a group, even on hikes we make a point to carve out some alone time — a few quiet minutes to take in the surroundings — where we can notice more and at the same time get some perspective. Before where things were a little cloudy, the sky clears. And in the heart of the mountains, what starts out like a deathly silence, quickly transforms into an orchestra of birdsong when you tune in.

We add a sprinkle of adventure

As we get older we can get set in our ways and close the door to opportunity. We tend to take the safe option, our comfort zone gets smaller and we tell ourselves stories about what we are and aren’t capable of. At Alptitude we see people try out things they wouldn’t normally do and their faces light up as they re-discover their inner child. We believe you’re never too old to be a kid again and a little adventure is good for the soul.

We get in touch with nature

It’s interesting to read about the intrinsic value of nature, but the most direct way is to get in touch with it. Just being in the mountains has a strong dialogue with nature. You touch the mountain and by touching the mountain you are also touched by the mountain. And while the sheer scale of the landscape can be awe-inspiring, this shouldn’t detract, or even compete with, the world beneath our feet. Each microsystem has their own measure of success and unique beauty, a powerful metaphor for the week. ,

We do fun things outdoors

Over the course of the seven days we have lots of deep and meaningful conversations and sessions, which at times can feel overwhelming. For this reason we make a real effort to create plenty of moments of lightness, where our minds can be free and we can be in the moment — from card games and dancing to mountain-top sing-a-longs.

You get experiences that stay with you.

When you’re back home, you bring the Alptitude way into your everyday, as Elena Kerrigan explains: “The day after I got back, my 7 year old daughter and I went on an impromptu, post-pub roast adventure in the South Downs, not knowing how we’d get back home, but that we could probably sort a cab out at the end of it. We cartwheeled and I taught her the Do-Ray-Me song from The Sound of Music. It was exciting and we made memories. (I’ve been cartwheeling and doing handstands most days since by the way!)”

🗻 Time you found your mojo in the mountains?
Alptitude is back this June — a retreat for leaders needing a re-set. A couple of last minute places have become available so register here if you’re interested in being part of it.

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Laurence McCahill
The Happy Startup School

Designer, coach, entrepreneur. Co-founder The Happy Startup School.