I love gardening. Because I feel great after I’ve been out in the garden, I’ve assumed it’s good for me. When I am restless or a little down I just step outside to get some fresh air, I walk in my garden, prune a few bushes, water a few pots, or cut a few blooms; this has always calmed me down and brought me out of my funk. I come back in with a dose of Natural High that gets me motivated to get things done. There is something very therapeutic about being out in nature.
I did a book review a while back on an awesome gardening book by author Gay Search titled: The Healing Garden. Gardening for the mind, body and soul. In this book, Gay Search cites an interesting research study that resonated with me. She discusses an old research project conducted in England in the 1980s called the Green Gym Project. What the study found is that when people worked outside in their gardens, their overall quality of life including mental and physical health improved.
The Green Gym study also came up with the idea of “biophilia.” This is the concept that we as humans have a biologically based attraction to nature, and our quality of life is to an extent dependent on how we interact with it. That is why when we are outside gardening, walking, or hiking, our mental and physical state is more at peace.
In the UK they have taken the Green Gym concept and made it into a national volunteer organization focused on getting people out into nature, exercising, and my favorite – creating neighborhood gardens for people to garden together as a community. To see the results of multiple studies done in the UK on nature and its effects on our health and well-being check out the web site for The Green Gym UK.
When I was in Philadelphia visiting my sister over the summer, I noticed her taking advantage of her garden to get some peace. She would step out into her garden with a cup of herbal tea for some quiet time when all 15 of our family members were crowded around her kitchen talking and chatting loudly. She would walk outside for a few minutes and look at all her trees and plants to get away from all the ruckus. She looked very peaceful out there in her backyard.
While traveling this past summer I also came upon a wonderful research study that proves yet again the positive effects of nature on our mood. I found a cool magazine on a flight I was on to Boston called Experience Life, a magazine dedicated to healthy natural living. In this magazine I read a little article on a 2015 study that chronicled the positive effects of nature on our health and well-being titled A Natural High. This article cited a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on how spending time in nature positively affects our mood. To quote the article: “In particular, taking a 90-minute walk in a natural setting reduced rumination – i.e. repetitive thoughts focused on negative aspects of self.”
The study monitored two groups of people. One group was asked to walk in a natural setting while the other group was asked to walk in an urban setting. During this one-week study participants were given a brain scan and completed questionnaires before and after their walks. Those who took the nature walk reported reduced rumination, meaning reduced thoughts of negative self-image, while the other group was neutral after their walk.
While doing some research for this article, I found another research study that was conducted by The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) in 2015. What they found is that while urbanization has many benefits it is also associated with increased levels of mental illness including depression. According to NCBI, “It has been suggested that decreased nature experiences may explain the link between urbanization and increased mental illness.”
NCBI recommends that architects incorporate more nature experiences in their urban designs such as community parks, and include more trees in their urban development plans. They suggest that these nature improvements can create “A pathway by which nature experience may improve mental well-being.” An abstract of the research conducted on nature experiences on mood regulation can be found at the web site for The National Center for Biotechnology Information
Coincidentally, here is a cool article I came upon a few weeks ago titled Why Silicon Valley Execs Are Obsessed With Walks. This article got me curious because I was working on my story on nature and it’s affects on our mood. The article chronicled a number of top tech executives here in the Bay Area who use walking in nature as a way to connect with an important task at hand, or to discuss critical projects with their co-workers.
The article discusses how when walking in nature, many executives felt a clearer mind that led to more energy to address tough problems, and also allowed them to connect with the colleague they were walking with.
This article also cites Steve Jobs as an avid nature walker when he wanted to think on an important decision. The article references a new book titled To Pixar and Beyond by Pixar’s first Chief Financial Officer Lawrence Levy that details the countless number of walks he went on with Steve Jobs during the company’s early years where conversations would lead from business to personal. Once Pixar became a hugely successful company, Lawrence Levy describes a meeting with Steve Jobs when he first told Jobs that he thought they should sell to Disney, and how they discussed the deal as they were walking in the shadows of Palo Alto’s oak, ash and magnolia trees. Levy describes this discussion out in nature as the perfect backdrop for a clear minded discussion on one of the most important decisions in Pixar’s history.
Similarly, LinkendIn’s Chief Executive Jeff Weiner has started doing walking meetings with his colleagues along a path behind their Mountain View, California, offices. Weiner says he observed that the nature of the conversation is better and tends to be more direct and candid when he is having a discussion outside in a natural surrounding with his co-workers. Weiner thinks this might be attributed to the comfort of being in nature and outside of the formality of an office. He also thinks that because there is little direct eye contact when walking side by side outside, for many employees they are more comfortable bringing up tough issues and concerns. For many people eye contact can be intimidating and can prevent them from being open and honest about an issue. Weiner feels a stroll outside creates a new dynamic by which employees can feel freer to raise issues and difficult topics.
The article also discusses Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg as prolific in using walks in nature to vet potential new employees. He is described as taking walks with them out in the woods near the Facebook offices to get a more authentic view of the person.
Many top executives in Silicon Valley from Pixar to Uber, Facebook to LinkedIn, and even Jeff Bezos of Amazon are using walks in nature as a way to have clear thoughts, keep their brain active, and to connect with their companies’ key success factor – their employees. “The next time you face a big decision or critical meeting, you may want to take a stroll — especially out in nature.” from CNN Money article Why Silicon Valley’s Top Execs are Obsessed with Taking Walks in Nature.
Want a dose of Natural Happiness? A walk among the trees, gardening for a bit, hiking, or sitting on the patio out in nature; all of these activities will do the trick.
We are so fortunate to be surrounded by beautiful nature and great weather, that they will surely provide A Natural High.