We grew up being told that getting outside was “good for us”. The phrase “get some fresh air” implies we place importance on going outdoors to find mental clarity or resolve conflict. When you stop to reflect, there are numerous similar examples of our societal belief that being in nature is important for our well-being. Even in the 18th century, poet Samuel Johnson said, “Deviation from nature is deviation from happiness.”
In the face of culture, society and our gut telling us that getting outdoors is key for health and happiness, it seems strange that British adults spend 90% of their time indoors. Is it the Great British weather? Or, perhaps the sedentary tendency of many of us to work behind a computer screen? The following studies help remind us what we stand to gain by exploring green spaces on a more regular basis. After all, when we consider ‘work:life integration’ rather than ‘work:life balance’, we understand how our deliberate acts of well-being can positively impact what we spend the majority of time doing: working.
Science-Backed Reasons for Getting Outdoors
Going outdoors improves your focus: Researchers at the University of Michigan found that attention spans and memory performance was improved by 20% by spending an hour in nature. They also found that participants felt the same benefits, regardless of the temperature. This means that the temperamental British weather is no longer an excuse.
Nature reduces stress in the city: Research published in Frontiers in Psychology found that urban dwellers who were asked to spend at least ten minutes in nature three time a week reported reduced levels of stress. The greatest reductions were found when participants spent between twenty and thirty minutes in urban nature.
Switching off from technology and embracing nature improves creative problem solving: In the journal PLoS ONE, researchers found that hikers who were disconnected from technology and immersed in a natural setting for four days had a 50% increased performance at a creative problem solving task.
Connecting with nature improves health and happiness: University of Derby and The Wildlife Trusts launched ’30 Days Wild’ – an experiment that measured the impact of people doing something ‘wild’, such as feeding the birds, every day for 30 days. The researchers found that 30% more participants rated their health as ‘excellent’ after the month-long experiment, which they attributed to the increase in happiness.
Ways to Reconnect with Nature in the City
If you’re a city dweller, finding natural spaces requires more effort, although the research above suggests it pays off. In London, there are plenty of places to get back to nature, including Kew Gardens, city farms, Royal parks and nature reserves. For more simple ways to reconnect with nature, try these ideas:
Visit a nature-inspired exhibition (for example, Wildlife Photographer of the Year at London’s Natural History Museum)
Volunteer and help conserve the city’s wildlife (for example, London Wildlife Trust)
We know that nature can have many benefits on health and happiness, but perhaps we need a reminder that these benefits aren’t exclusive to living in the countryside. Recognising the reassuring pattern and pace of nature is a good way to find refreshing slowness in our hurried lifestyles. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience”. To truly connect, we must adjust our pace.
These carefully curated simple and slow living quotes inspire us to live better not faster in the modern era. They include key thinkers on the slow movement, such as Carl Honoré and the man attributed to the birth of the slow food movement, Carlo Petrini.
“The great benefit of slowing down is reclaiming the time and tranquility to make meaningful connections–with people, with culture, with work, with nature, with our own bodies and minds”
Carl Honoré, In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed
Go with the slow
Unknown, but appeared in Flow Magazine
“Slow living is all about creating time and space and energy for the things that matter most to us in life, so ask yourself what you stand to gain.”
“There is more to life than increasing its speed.”
” …slow living is not about living your life in slow motion; it’s about doing everything at the right speed and pacing instead of rushing. By that same logic, slow living is not about losing time by going slowly; it’s about gaining time by doing the things that are most important to you.”
“Slowing down is sometimes the best way to speed up.”
“In order to seek one’s own direction, one must simplify the mechanics of ordinary, everyday life.”
“In the 1980s, simplicity was seen primarily as “downshifting” or pulling back from the rat race of consumer society. Several decades later, there is a growing recognition of simplicity as “upshifting”—or moving beyond the rat race to the human race.”
“Slow living is a curious mix of being prepared and being prepared to let go. Caring more and caring less. Saying yes and saying no. Being present and walking away. Doing the important things and forgetting those that aren’t.”
Sometimes, throwing together a meal from scratch is the last thing you want to do after a long day. The contents of the fridge feel uninspiring and you’re hungry. Really hungry. The urge to reach for your phone and order a delivery or head to the shop for a ready meal is like an itch that won’t subside. Finally, you give in and settle on the sofa to await a moped-riding waiter or the ping of the microwave.
While sometimes a takeaway or a few supermarket-bought shortcuts for the kitchen are the only option, there are many slow living-inspired benefits of cooking from scratch that aren’t limited to the savings for your back pocket.
Slow Food: Reasons to Cook More Meals from Scratch
1. Reduce Packaging
Ready meals are often plastic packaging intensive. But, it can be recycled, right? In the UK, around 1.3 billion black CPET trays are used in packaging each year, but despite being recyclable, most still end up in landfill or being incinerated. Why? The black pigment doesn’t allow light to pass through, meaning that the trays are often not detected by waste sorting equipment. This is a great example of why we should be striving to reduce our overall plastic consumption, rather than just relying on recycling.
By cooking from scratch you have more control over the plastic waste you produce, for example by opting for loose vegetables or buying dry goods at a zero waste shop.
2. Mindful Cooking
Cooking from scratch is a great way to practise slow living and mindfulness, whether you’re living in the city or countryside. The slow food movement focuses on preserving culinary traditions and understanding how our ingredients have been produced. However, in the digital era, the concept of slow food can also be taken a step further to incorporate how we use those ingredients in the kitchen.
Preparing a meal offers the opportunity to switch off from digital notifications and distractions and focus on the repetitive rituals of cooking techniques. Many see cooking as a mindful experience, especially when you make a conscious effort to be present and engage with the senses as you chop and stir. Therapists have even begun practising ‘culinary arts therapy’, using cooking as a way for patients to experience therapeutic expression.
3. Know What’s in your Food
The mindful aspect of cooking introduces this next reason to don your apron. By connecting with the food you are preparing, you’re more aware of what’s going into your body and are more likely to eat fresher, higher quality food, versus ready meals and other food options that may cut corners on quality to be able to be produced on a mass scale.
But, being more conscious about your ingredients isn’t just about knowing what’s going into your body. It’s also about being informed about where your food has come from. Just like the plastic packaging point above, you often have more freedom to make sustainable choices at an ingredient level.
4. Meaningful Meal Times
Of course, cooking from scratch doesn’t automatically mean your dinnertime conversation is going to be riveting, but the effort put in to prepare the meal can encourage a slower, more mindful approach to eating.
Keeping regular meal times is important psychologically, socially and biologically, according to mentalhealth.org. Rather than rushing through meals on-the-go or accompanied by a smartphone, sharing meal times with others can “provide a sense of rhythm and regularity” and a chance to connect.
In our fast-paced world, cooking from scratch and being creative in the kitchen is one of the easiest ways to slow down while doing something positive for mind, body and planet.
In the 1980s, the founder of the slow food movement, Carlo Petrini, began to notice how “the umbilical cord that had once connected the worlds of farmer and consumer was cut.” Petrini, from Bra in Northern Italy, lamented the loss of connection between consumers and producers with the introduction of large-scale supermarkets and fast food.
In 1986, two significant events took place which encouraged Petrini to found Slow Food, a not-for-profit grassroots organisation which champions traditional food preparation techniques and locally sourced ingredients.
The first event, which is often associated with the birth of the movement, was the planned opening of a McDonald’s restaurant in the Piazza di Spagna in the centre of Rome. While many protested outside the planned McDonald’s site, Petrini disagreed with this solution. Instead, he set about defending Italian culinary traditions by showing how they were at risk.
The second event was the selling of cheap wine made with methanol which led to the deaths of 19 people, in addition to multiple poisonings. According to The Independent, the cheap wine incident also supported Petrini’s drive to raise awareness. Italian wine exports fell by more than a third and demonstrated that protecting the country’s culinary heritage was not only important culturally, but also economically.
The Slow Food Manifesto and Beliefs
In 1989 Slow Food came to life when delegates from 15 countries from around the globe signed the initial manifesto. The manifesto promoted living a “better quality lifestyle”, finding pleasure in food and protecting local traditions:
“First of all, we can begin by cultivating taste, rather than impoverishing it, by stimulating progress, by encouraging international exchange programs, by endorsing worthwhile projects, by advocating historical food culture and by defending old-fashioned food traditions.” – Slow Food Manifesto, 1989
Over time, the beliefs of the Slow Food organisation have been developed and refined. Today, Slow Food is guided by the principle that food systems should produce “good, clean and fair food for everyone”.
GOOD: quality, nourishing food that is full of flavour
CLEAN: food production that is not harmful to the environment
FAIR: prices that are affordable for consumers and fair conditions and income for producers
The time and potential cost implications of cooking from scratch using local ingredients have been contested in an opinion piece by Karla Fernandez for Feminist Wire. Fernandez suggests that the slow food movement can vilify all processed foods which have allowed both working women and men to spend less time in the kitchen. She alludes to the difference in processing, for example between frozen vegetables and a ready-meal.
While a trip to the farmers’ market may not be feasible or affordable for every weekly shop and some elements of processed food may be unavoidable (or even desirable), it’s still possible to make more sustainable and conscious decisions in supermarkets with some research.
Slow Food in the Digital Era
Since Petrini first shared his concerns over our accelerated pace of life in the 1980s, referencing industrialisation and the creation of the ‘machine’, our speed of living has arguably only increased.
In 2018, the conversation around the environmental costs of our food consumption habits peaked with the release of new research from the University of Oxford. The study advised that two seemingly similar food products in the same supermarket could have wildly different environmental impacts and as consumers, we’re not informed about the consequences of our purchasing choices due to lack of clear labelling. The research also increased discussion around the impact of reducing animal products in our diets as one of the most beneficial ways to support the planet on an individual level.
2018 also saw Collins Dictionary select ‘single-use’ as the word of the year, reflecting the increase in public discussion around plastic pollution. The plastic bag tax has seen a shift in consumer behaviour, encouraging shoppers to bring their own. This suggests that a similar effect could be possible for food packaging and levies on high environmental impact foods.
While we’re clearly at an environmental tipping point on the discussion around sustainability and how we make food purchases, we can also consider how the act of preparing and eating food has changed in the digital era.
The significance of meal times has arguably been devalued as we eat at our desks or accompanied by our smartphones, the latter breaking down conversations and distracting us from what’s on our plates.
Today, Slow Food deserves a further point in its list of GOOD, CLEAN and FAIR principles. A focus not just on selecting ingredients, but also how we use them – on slowing down to find joy in the meditative and creative process of cooking from scratch, and re-assigning value to the importance of connecting with and over the food we consume.
Ingrid Opstad is the founder of popular lifestyle and interiors blog That Scandinavian Feeling. Originally from Norway, she shares inspiration for living a Scandinavian lifestyle outside of the Nordic countries.
In the following interview, Ingrid tells us what hygge really means, explains her own understanding of slow living and shares other intriguing Norwegian words. This is a valuable insight into why the Scandinavian countries continue to be rated among the happiest in the world.
That Scandinavian Feeling is a great name for a blog and clearly emotive for you. How would you describe that feeling?
“Thank you, the name came to me after moving to Italy when I started focusing on my heritage and wanted an outlet where I could share more. As I am a Norwegian living abroad and trying to find a Scandinavian feeling from my surroundings, I created the blog that Scandinavian feeling with the intention for it to represent the feeling of cosiness and calm with a Nordic simplistic and minimalistic style. The blog is a place where I share my knowledge and love for Scandinavia; it touches upon everything from interiors, design, lifestyle and hygge.
That Scandinavian feeling is a feeling that is very dear to me. It is a lot of things but at the same time also hard to explain, and I guess that’s why it is so fascinating and deep in my heart. It is not about location or origin but simply a mix of cosiness and calm. It is a warm atmosphere that invites you in and makes you feel welcome, but at the same time a cool freshness that hits you like a winter breeze. It is wrapping yourself up in a nice comfy blanket with a hot drink and a cinnamon bun. It is simplicity and minimalism, focusing on the little things in life. It is wooden houses, reindeers, knitted jumpers, fjords and mountains, hygge… all the things that remind me of Scandinavia and help me feel close to my home even though I am far away.”
Hygge has been huge in the UK over the past few years, but it’s arguably become slightly commercialised over here. If we take it back to its roots, what does it really mean?
“The concept of hygge is a way of life in Scandinavia that focuses on cosiness, comfort, warmth and togetherness. It is about enjoying those little moments that make us happy and relaxed, either on our own or with people we love. Hygge is without a doubt one of the reasons the Scandinavian countries consistently top the polls as the happiest people on earth each year.”
Does Norway have its own equivalent for hygge or Sweden’s lagom?
“What many people might not know is that hygge actually also is a Norwegian word, and we use it the same as the Danish do, just not as much. But for us Norwegians, I think the word koselig would be our own equivalent. It describes the warm feeling you get from simple pleasures in life. It can be meeting up with a good friend, cosying up under a blanket on a cold winter day with a book, a smile… Basically anything you enjoy can be referred to as koselig. We also say that if a space has a cosy atmosphere, it is koselig.”
What would be your tips for embracing that Scandinavian feeling, wherever we live?
“First of all, making sure I create a cosy atmosphere in my own home is key for me to embracing that Scandinavian feeling no matter where I am. I’ve been focusing on adding little personal elements to my house to make it more homely, little details like photos and decorative items reminding me of where I’m from. I enjoy creating my own little Scandinavian nest here in Italy; when I’m in my apartment it makes me feel like I am back home in Norway, but when I step outside I am yet again in Italy.
Another way to find that Scandinavian feeling is to discover places you feel welcomed, for me that means cafés where I can escape and relax. One of those places is the Hygge Café in Milano, it reminds me of a café you would find in Scandinavian countries with the Nordic sense of tranquil. In London I used to visit places like the Nordic Bakery or Scandinavian Kitchen regularly for cinnamon buns and hygge. Now, on my blog I regularly post about cafés or restaurants I discover with a Scandinavian feeling to help people find a place as it is always something I am on the hunt for myself when visiting new cities or countries.
Another part of that Scandinavian feeling is being close to nature, as this is a biggie for us. Friluftsliv is a Norwegian word describing the Nordic philosophy of outdoor life and encouraging you to enjoy nature, appreciate the outdoors and be active. A direct translation to English would be ‘fresh-air life’. When I go hiking in the mountains near the Alps or visit one of the many lakes here in Italy it reminds me of Scandinavia and gives me that feeling.
For me, a balance of hygge and slow living together with an active friluftsliv enjoying nature is key to a happy and healthy life and to embracing that Scandinavian feeling.”
Where’s your favourite place to shop for Scandi design?
“I am quite conscious about spending money and owning less, so I guess I browse stores more than I actually purchase items. There are a lot of great online stores I check out regularly, like for instance Finnish Design Shop, Utility Design, Cloudberry Living etc.
In London, Skandium is my favourite place to go. Last time I visited London I stopped by the Marylebone High Street store and wanted to buy everything but my suitcase was just too small… In Milano, near where I live, I tend to visit either Design Republic or the department store La Rinascente which both have an excellent selection of Nordic brands. I do also go to IKEA probably once a week, so most of my furnitures is from there since it is so affordable.
But the best places for me are always when I go back home to Norway and can visit all my favourite stores which all have great selections of Scandinavian design. So I highly recommend taking a trip to any of the Scandinavian countries.”
Do you have any morning or bedtime rituals that you follow everyday?
“I love a slow start to the day, so my morning ritual usually starts with a cuddle in bed with my dog Bowie (who is a big hygge lover), before we both get outside for some fresh air. After a walk and a long breakfast I feel refreshed and ready to tackle the day.
Both me and my boyfriend are night owls so we love staying up way too late. I have been trying to go to bed earlier lately to see if it will help me sleep better, while also making sure I drink plenty of water and wash my face before bed. I try to read and have downloaded the app Headspace (after your recommendation) which I am planning to start using as my new bedtime ritual.”
What does slow living mean to you?
“Slow living to me is about taking time in your daily life to focus on your own well-being and happiness. It is a different way to face the day and appreciate everything that surrounds us. The importance of taking our time, to chat, to spend time with people who make us feel good, all without rushing. It is closely linked to hygge I would say. Sometimes our everyday life can feel so busy, but I believe taking a slower approach and focusing on the small joys is essential.
When I lived in London and worked in a busy office I used to feel quite stressed. When it comes to slow living I have learned a lot from the Italians, they can be quite relaxed and easy going on many aspects of life which is something I discovered while living here. When it comes to food for instance, Italians always sit at the dinner table and slow down for as long as possible. Something I am now happily adopting in my everyday life.”
Do you have a favourite quote or motto that inspires you?
“My favourite sentence that always stays in my head is “remember to enjoy the little things” – simple but so true. It relates both to hygge and that Scandinavian feeling, a reminder to make sure we focus on those little everyday things that might otherwise be forgotten. For me, the little things like stroking my dog, taking five minutes to enjoy a coffee or going for a walk are the things that makes me feel happy and inspired.”
Thank you to Ingrid for sharing so much insight on the way she lives and how we can each embrace that Scandinavian feeling in London and beyond. What she herself has learnt about slow living since moving to Italy shows us that we have something to gain from the traditions of each and every culture around the world.
You can follow That Scandinavian Feeling on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for more Scandi insights and images like those she shared for this post.