Why living in nature keeps us happy.
Urbanization and our increasingly metropolitan lifestyles are a major threat to our mental health and well-being according to many studies. Including a recent report that has lent even more weight to this observation.
Nature is a great place for men to meet and to bond around a campfire after a day moving wood, cutting down non-native invasive tree species, digging out overgrown lakes, scything through ancient meadows and building boardwalks. It’s a place where we can just be and we can step out of our hectic lives and demanding work to just breathe in clear air, observe ancient trees and to remember those childhood games of tracking and den-making.
As a counterpoint to this there is another body of evidence that shows that living closer to green spaces actually promotes our happiness and sense of peace. In Japan they really know this and have perfected nature reconnection in the art of Shinrin-Yoku, which means forest bathing.
Let’s be clear: Nature is good for you.
I’ve devised five natural ways to restore a sense of balance and happiness into your lives just by using nature. The side effects of this approach are minimal—nothing more than a covering of earth and woodsmoke and possibly the odd scratch.
Not only that but it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than seeing a therapist.
1. Green Gym. Here you will find no treadmills, pumping music, or ESPN on a 60” screen. Instead you will get physical in a forest, meadow or wetland. The green gym is simply joining in on a wildlife conservation project, cutting wood, knocking back scrub or building bonfires. It is hard physical work but immensely rewarding. Most conservation bodies have so much work that needs doing and so few people and resources to do it, so you will make a big difference. The combination of hard work in nature is unbeatable for creating a feel good factor and you will be helping the environment and those hard-pressed organisations, too. If you want to get involved then just Google your local conservation organisations and they’ll direct you to the volunteers programmes.
2. Shinrin-Yoku. Japan is a highly metropolitan society; people live in close proximity in an ultra-modern high-rise society. This urban malaise had led to high levels of stress, heart disease and illnesses such as metabolic syndrome. Researchers at the Nippon Medical School started to explore ways that these symptoms could be alleviated. They knew that there was a huge body of anecdotal evidence pointing to the healing powers of nature–a fact extolled by artists and poets for centuries. What they discovered was truly amazing; the chemicals (phyto-chemicals) produced by trees and plants in old growth forest actually boost our frontline defences against stress, heart disease and high blood pressure amongst other conditions.
3. A walk in the park. Sometimes it’s just not possible to get to an ancient forest or do work on conservation projects, so leave your desk at lunchtime and simply walk in nature in a park. Most of us can access some sort of open green space close to where we work or live. You may find that as soon as you cross into the park your mind and thoughts slow down, you begin to look and see and to feel rather than to think. Even 10 minutes can radically alter your mood and leave you feeling recharged and ready for whatever work or life has to throw at you.
4. Hug a tree, yes really! We know that trees have many benefits. In forests they provide habitat, wood, biodiversity and ecosystem services. In cities, they can mitigate the urban heat island effect by cooling the air and reducing greenhouse gases. But, perhaps surprisingly, there is increasing evidence that trees are also good for our mental health. Just touching a tree can have a huge calming effect on the body, perhaps this is something you could add in to your lunchtime safari in your local park.
5. Sign up for a movement course set in nature. There are many out there now and these courses can be life changing or at least life affirming. What could be better than free running over dunes and giant boulders or doing Tai Chi in a tropical forest overlooking Africa–where you can learn to move the body and still the mind?
Whatever you choose to do, keep in mind that nature is a true healer and a powerful teacher. Science is now confirming something that our bodies intrinsically know.
Listen to this Green Divas Radio Show with science communicator Greg Laden to learn more about preserving the nature around us.