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Can Sacking Off the City and Moving to the Countryside Actually Make You Happier?

We talked to some young people who left the rush and the smell of the city behind.
24.5.16

You wake up in your rundown apartment, hungover and flat broke after your third night out this week. The only thing you have to look forward to this Sunday in the sweaty city is the smell of garbage and the sound of your upstairs neighbours having make-up sex. You realise that the big city life is going to give you an aneurysm before you've reached your 40s, so you promise yourself that one day you'll leave everything behind and move to the countryside – before it's too late.

Annons

Anyone who's ever lived in a big city has probably been through this at one point or another, but not that many people actually go through with the moving part. Because who really wants to give up asphalt, 7-Elevens and a busy daily morning commute?

It turns out some young people actually do. Which leads us to the question: is it as soul-soothing as one would like to imagine or is the countryside just as depressing as staying in the city? We decided to ask some people who have left the city for a life on the countryside.

Photo from Jonna Jintons private collection

Jonna Jinton, 27

I was living in Gothenburg with my family and had graduated from college, but I didn't manage to get any employment. My confidence had hit rock bottom. I started to study to be a care assistant, only because I thought studying was something that I should do and was expected of me to want to do. I was flat broke, confused and didn't really know what to do with my life. I felt unhappier than I had ever been. During the summer of my 21st birthday, I left to spend a couple of weeks in my family's summer house up north, around a hundred miles from Gothenburg. The house is located in a small quaint village called Grundtjärn. It's surrounded by floral meadows, fir forests and a lake. The scenery is indescribable – you have northern lights covering the skies at night and wide forests in all directions. There're only 11 people living in that village, so there's a stark contrast between Grundtjärn and Gothenburg. I remember how it suddenly struck me: This is where I want to be. So without any significant amount of money or any plans on how to survive, I told my family and my friends that I was moving. I simply knew I had to leave and I left on short notice.

I stayed at my parents' summer house at first, bought a Volvo 245 with my last savings and found a job at a farmhouse close to my village. My confidence started to grow instantly, which gave me courage, enough to start a blog. I wanted to show people how to live an alternative life. You know – washing your clothes outside in a dolly tub, swimming in the lake instead of taking a shower and chopping firewood in your backyard. That kind of stuff. It's a nice way to spend your time, which I had a lot of.

Annons

The first few months were amazing, but then winter came. It was like travelling a hundred years back in time. I struggled with outside temperatures below minus 40 degrees Celsius, the lack of hot water and no radiators. It was a really tough time, to say the least. I couldn't get the inside temperature higher than plus two degrees, so I slept on the floor close to the stove and beside my dog to keep warm. When spring came, I remember thinking that I was not going to make it another winter.

Fortunately, things got better. I got used to all of it. My blog grew, I started to sell photographs and paintings through my web shop, my Instagram account got quite popular and so did my Facebook page. I think it's interesting to live in such a deserted place like this and simultaneously make a living out of digital things like a blog, Instagram and selling photographs.

Today, it's been more than five years since I moved here and I've gradually obtained the more important necessities, like a washing machine and hot water. Sure, there's been times when it all has been really tough, but I've never regretted the decision to move to Grundtjärn.

Marcus and Jenny, both 31

Both of us had decent jobs in Stockholm. I was a part-owner in a digital media bureau and Jenny worked at a sports and activity organisation. We had recently renovated our three bedroom apartment in the centre of Stockholm and were both perfectly satisfied with our social life. By coincidence, we saw an advertisement for the job of CEO at a company located in Vemdalen, which was the place where we had spent a few skiing weekends recently. At first, we laughed about it, just because we'd joked about moving up north before. I guess that the desire to get away was hidden in those jokes, without us realising it.

So, after reading that, we couldn't really let go of the thought of us moving there. We started to ask ourselves: when we're 60 years old and look back on our youth, what kind of life do we want to have led? We came to the conclusion that we both love outdoor sports, but living in a big city has its drawbacks, and that we weren't able to do them was one of them. We wanted to be able to take advantage of the arena that nature provides. We discussed it for a week and thought: What the hell, let's do this, it sounds fun. We sold our stake in the company with short notice and moved.

Annons

Right now, we live in a former barn. Our living room is probably the cosiest room you'll ever see. It's rustic and snug – logs in the ceiling, an open fire and loads of pine wood. There are times when we miss Stockholm. Mostly the social parts – our family and friends, but also the possibility to be spontaneous. Grab a beer after work, visit a restaurant or go for a run with your friends. But there's a tranquility about the countryside that we appreciate. More room for creativity and time to come up with new ideas. You could say that it was quite a shock moving from Stockholm to a place where the grocery stores are closed both Saturday and Sunday and where you have to put so much effort into keeping the inside temperatures above 15 degrees Celsius during the winter. There have been times when we've been struggling with minus 30 degrees.

There's a different pace in the city, and it's easy to get stuck in a life where you forget to feel, think and question if this is the life you want to live. There's no room for reflection. That's why we like it here. Instead of waking up in the morning seeing right into your neighbour's kitchen window, you see mountains. Instead of rushing through your life doing things you don't want to do, you stop and reflect.

Madeleine Grimhall, 31

We're actually in the midst of selling our apartment in Stockholm right now. The decision to move was mostly a strategic one. I've been working as a helicopter pilot up in the north of Sweden for some years now. I work 14 days in a row, followed by seven days off. My boyfriend has a similar working situation, so we came to the conclusion that we didn't necessarily need to live in Stockholm during the time when we are off duty. Having the opportunity to choose where to live without even consider the job situation, that's a liberating feeling. Both of us are into outdoor activities like skiing, cycling, running. We would rather spend our life in the countryside and visit Stockholm on the weekends, instead of doing the opposite. It's easier to meet people here, despite the fact that there are fewer people living. You don't need to plan a dinner weeks in advance, and there is basically no transportation time here. It takes longer than you think to get from one point to another using public transport in big cities, although the distances are smaller. Another advantage of living in the countryside is that you don't feel the pressure of having to find the best new hipster hamburger shack. You can buy fresh meat from the locals that tastes ten times better than the best truffle burger in town. I can't really find any reasons for us not to move. We consume and waste a lot more in the city but still earn the same salary here. There's no reason for us to live in an expensive city. We thought that if we have to restrict ourselves to a specific location, it may as well be a place where we are close to nature. It is nice to go back home to Stockholm for shorts visits. People make the time to meet you when you don't live where they do, so when we visit we get to meet our friends and the people that we love, and the whole thing becomes more intense and fulfilling in a way. People try harder and put more of an effort into doing things together when you have a limited amount of time. You don't postpone the important stuff because you know that you'll be leaving in a couple of days. I work at the end of a road at least 45 minutes away from the closest village. We're surrounded by mountains, and there's no morning traffic to talk about. Maybe a couple of reindeers or a moose now and then. Thank god I haven't had any bear encounters yet.

Erik Tiger Lindgren, 24

My dad passed away recently and I was working during the week and doing drugs on the weekends. Mostly weed and alcohol, but I experimented with other stuff as well. I didn't feel happy at all. I was done with Stockholm, so I applied to a Christian outdoor wilderness-school on a whim, or at least it wasn't a decision I had thought through properly. I didn't really know what I wanted to do, the only thing I knew was that I needed to get as far away from Stockholm as I possibly could.

Being in the woods for two weeks straight does something to you. You almost become primal. The only thing you think about is what to do next – what to eat, where to sleep, stuff like that. You enter a different kind of mindset. That's the reason I left. I was having a really bad period in my life. I didn't really know how to react when I got accepted into the school. I remember thinking "Am I really going to leave everything behind and move to a small village?" I asked my mom and my mates for advice, and they all said: just go! Take the opportunity. So I accepted the offer from the school and left Stockholm. Now I'm living in a century-old brick building with twenty to thirty other students. One thing I love about being out here is that you can really see the stars. Not like home with a few fuzzy spots, but the whole damn galaxy. It's very quiet and calm. Some of the other students are a bit panicked because of the quietness, but I'm comfortable with being alone most of the time. It's a double-sided feeling, because I miss my friends at home and all the stuff that happens in a big city. Right now, I'm writing a school paper about fasting. So every Friday to Monday, I go out in the woods all alone with only water to drink to get a better understanding what fasting is all about. I've done it straight for three weekends now. I guess I won't be here forever, I'll probably end up in Stockholm again, but at least now I know that this kind of life is possible. Knowing that the forest isn't going anywhere and that I'll always be able to come back to it. It's quite a comforting feeling. These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.