Ah, Scandinavians. They know a thing or two about living long and prospering: Their lifestyle is considered one of the healthiest and happiest in the world, and their cities keep being voted among the most livable. There is a method to their midnight sun-fueled madness, but you don’t have to travel to northern Europe to extract that wisdom. Here are some life-saving Scandinavian habits to start incorporating in your daily life, i dag (today).
1. Try a little butter.
Cooking with butter: not just for Paula Deen. The Scandinavians may be very healthy eaters, and they believe that using real butter is actually better for you than all those margarine alternatives or seed- and plant-based oils. Margarine intake and subsequent coronary heart disease in men. Gillman MW, Cupples LA, Gagnon D. Epidemiology (Cambridge, Mass.), 1997, Sep.;8(2):1044-3983. Adding a small cube of butter to soups, pasta dishes, or to meat and vegetables will leave your food tasting richer—and you feeling more satisfied. And a high intake of dairy fat has been associated with a lower risk of obesity too. High dairy fat intake related to less central obesity: a male cohort study with 12 years' follow-up. Holmberg S, Thelin A. Scandinavian journal of primary health care, 2013, Jan.;31(2):1502-7724.
2. Opt for a "no shoes inside" policy.
On a purely practical level, when you come inside, your shoes are coated in dirt, city grossness, snow, rain... whatever. You don’t really want to drag them inside your nice living room, do you? On a cultural level, taking off your shoes and walking barefoot—or wearing comfy socks—is the ultimate signal you’re actually home and you can relax. It’s cleaner, healthier for both your feet and the floors, and only awkward the first two times you’ll have to enforce that rule on your guests.
3. Understand the importance of hygge and kos.
Americans recently discovered that elusive and untranslatable Danish concept of hygge, which means something like "utter coziness and taking pleasure in small, healthyish indulgences." Finding time for kos (another practically untranslatable Norwegian word that also alludes to that feeling of content and coziness) with your loved ones when it’s cold outside is good for your physical, mental, and emotional health. Wear comfy clothes, light candles, and watch that movie, read, or play a board game while cuddling on the couch. Like Netflix and chill... but with actual chilling.
4. Learn how to really take advantage of a sauna.
Scandis know that immersing yourself in some version of a hot steam bath is good for de-clogging pores, relaxing muscles, and cleaning sinuses. Norwegians combine a trip to their home sauna with garlic cloves, ginger, and vapor rub; Finns and Icelanders love diving in snow before or afterward. You can create your own ritual, but the important thing is to start thinking of saunas as not just a way to pamper yourself at a spa, but something you should be doing on a regular basis. Just go easy on the garlic. (And sure, the Finns—who invented the sauna—are not "technically" Scandinavians. And "real" Scandinavians like the Swedes actually call a sauna "bastu." But the point remains.)
5. Don’t use bad weather as an excuse not to exercise.
When the weather is bad nine months out of the year, you can’t really put your life on hold waiting for the skies to clear. There’s proper gear for running in the rain, a ton of ways to keep active when it’s snowing, and the ol’ traditional indoor gym, after all.
6. Eat more fish and berries.
Food that’s ridiculously good for you should be a regular on your plate, not an exotic afterthought. Sure, seeing Norwegians eat fish for breakfast (in the form of mackerel paste, often) is weird. But all these good omega-3 fatty acids are an excellent source of energy, and if we substituted fish for most of our ham in snacks and sandwiches, we would all be healthier. As for berries, it’s easy (and delicious) to incorporate them in every meal: Blend them in your smoothies, eat them with yogurt, snack on them plain, toss them in your salad, incorporate them as part of a sauce with meat dishes, and serve them with cream for dessert.
7. Drink a little less.
The Scandis’ relationship with alcohol is not something you necessarily want to copy. (Binge-drinking every weekend is definitely a part of the culture, and ain’t nobody got the liver for that.)
But the fact that alcohol is regulated by the state and sold only in specific stores at specific hours might not be the worst idea ever. To make your alcohol habits a bit more regulated, try allocating a specific day of the week to buying it, or make it a hard and fast personal rule to never buy alcohol after 8 p.m. It might sound silly, but next time you’re already tipsy at the supermarket on a Saturday night, not buying that extra bottle might lead to fewer bad decisions.
8. Discover the fun of daytime dates.
Because of the alcohol regulations and the astronomical price of everything, going out for a drink on a first date is not something Scandis really do. They get creative instead: When the weather is good, they meet for an activity like swimming, hiking, skiing, or just walking; they meet at coffee shops for fika (coffee and desserts); or they just straight up meet at the other person’s home, during the day, to cook and get to know each other. It feels weird at first, not to rely on mellow lighting and the social lubricant that is alcohol in order to date. But you’ll get to know the other person better this way. And faster.
9. Try eating your biggest meal earlier in the day.
Middag literally means "the middle of the day," and it’s most Scandinavians’ main meal. Middag is traditionally served so early you’re probably still polishing off those brunch mimosas by the time they’re done, but even during workdays, most Scandinavians eat middag around 4-5 p.m. This is actually great for digestion, as you give your stomach enough time to process what just happened before shutting everything down by going to bed. But don’t worry about starving around 9: Scandinavians also eat a small "pre-bed" snack (kveldsmat in Norwegian) that will keep your stomach from rumbling.
10. When the sun comes out, everything stops.
That’s probably the most important aspect of Scandinavian lifestyle: Nice weather and sunlight are never taken for granted. They are meant to be enjoyed outside, to the maximum, with good company and a good mood, before they disappear again. Imagine how great it would be if you went and took advantage of the sunshine every time you could!
Danai is a writer and editor by day, a tarot card reader by night, and a cat person, 24/7. Born in Athens, Greece, Danai spent the last five years eating lobster rolls and taking the subway for work in NYC before deciding to relocate to Scandinavia and learn how to forage berries. Follow her on Instagram, on Twitter, or in real life in some Scandinavian forest.