Can nature really make you happier?
For some people, nature is a place to get away from the stresses of everyday life. For others, it's a way to feel connected with our planet and take in all its beauty and wonder. But can nature really make you happier?
According to a study conducted on 20,000 people, led by the European Centre for Environment and Human Health, it only takes a minimum of 2 hours a week to impact the general health of our bodies.
We all know that getting outdoors is good for us and has many mental and physical health benefits. It gives our bodies vitamin D, an opportunity for exercise, and fresh air. But this study tells us we need, at the very minimum, 2 hours in nature to experience positive effects on our physical and emotional health.
Time in nature is not important – it's vital! In a world that has become so dependent on smart phones and technology, government officials and researchers are recognising the need for activity in the outside world as becoming more critical than ever.
An immersive time in nature can help:
- reduce stress hormone levels
- Lower blood pressure
- Enhance immune function
- Reduce anxiety
- Improve mood
How? According to the article, Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings, spending regular time in nature allows the mind to replenish. It does this by providing a richly nurturing and calm environment, free from the distractions and noises that constantly arrest people's attention and cause feelings of stress or unease.
Time in nature can also increase our creativity. Poets and musicians through history are renowned for drawing their inspiration from nature.
One of my favourite poets, who I often quote, along with a vivid, lustrous image of nature, is Henry David Thoreau, an American naturalist, poet, and philosopher. Thoreau was a leading transcendentalist and well known for his book – Walden or Life in the Woods. Walden was a reflection on simple living in natural surroundings. I think it's fair to say that these Ideas, dating back to the 1800s, are of immense value and are still incredibly relevant in today's culture.
In the words of Thoreau:
"We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigour, vast and Titanic features, the seacoast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander."
So, where to find 2 hours a week for nature? It sounds a lot. Most people have busy schedules and find it difficult to spare time for a coffee, let alone time in nature. But you don't have to do it all once, and it needn't involve a half-day adventure.
Here are 11 ways to break 2 hours into bite-sized pieces to spread throughout your week:
- Weekend Warrior: Take the family for a walk on a nature trail. Google some locations close by, put on some walking shoes, slip-slop-slap, and off you go. Physical activity, like a 40-minute walk in the bush, has been associated with improved mood and feelings of health and robustness. (Source Association of Nature & Forest Therapy Guides & Programs )
- Have a picnic: Picnics are a fantastic way to combine two activities – eating and getting into the outdoors. Find a secluded natural haven, turn off the phone, leave the kids iPads at home and enjoy relaxed, serene moments together.
- Step outside and listen to the sounds around you: It could be a creek or stream, birds singing, the scuffling of a creature moving through the underbrush, the wind in the trees. The music of nature is one of the most healing sounds. Stress will leave your body; senses will become less frayed, and your enjoyment levels will increase.
- Take a moonlight walk: Even a quiet walk through the local park after dinner will add another precious nature experience to your week. While you're out, notice the moon, stars, and cool night air.
- Go animal spotting: Day or night, this is a great activity. By focusing on your surroundings and searching for wildlife, you will effectively block out the noise of your "normal" life. As a result, your mind will have time to rest, re-energise and get creative.
- Get your toes in the sand: A walk on the beach or swimming in the ocean can have a restorative effect on the body and mind. Feeling the sand underneath your feet and immersing your body in the cool water is a natural refresh and energiser. The worries of the world can simply slip away.
- Create a 'nature space' in your garden: Dedicate a quiet corner of your garden for mindfulness and appreciation. Create a comfortable space where you can sit, read, relax, feel the sun on your shoulders or simply listen to the birds' chirp at any time of day.
- Grow herbs: Sometimes, you don't have the time to go out searching for a nature reserve. You may not have a large garden or backyard. Growing herbs in beautiful pots brings aesthetic joy, delicious fragrance, and organic produce for use in your cooking, teas, and salads.
- Exercise in the Local Park: Most suburbs have community recreation areas and parks. Take a run or stroll to your nearest one for some gentle exercise.
- Join a walking group: Walking groups are becoming more popular as they have multiple benefits. They get you out of the house and into nature, you can discover places to walk you didn't know existed, you can meet new people and make new friends. All while reducing stress, anxiety and increasing your mental and physical fitness.
- Ride your bike: It's an oldie but a goodie!
It doesn't matter what activity you partake in so long as it's outdoors and in nature!
Studies into the benefits of spending time in nature are said to be expanding. For example, according to the American Psychological Association's article Nurtured by Nature, scientists are actively researching our understanding of the healing powers of Mother Nature.
But even with research continuing, we only need to listen to our bodies to appreciate the amazing benefits. So, take notice next time you are breathing in the cool air of a rain forest, stargazing, or walking out of the ocean-fresh from a swim in the waves. How do you feel? What senses have become awakened? Is your body and mind-tingling with joy? Probably. That's all the evidence I need.
As we have discovered, nature is more than just a beautiful backdrop. It can make you happier! So next time you're feeling unwell, stressed, or anxious, head outdoors to get your dose of nature's medicine.
Can't get into nature right now? Try aromatherapy to calm and nurture your mind until you can.