Just because school’s out for summer, it doesn’t mean pop quizzes are on vacation, too. As they say, if you’re not green and growing, it means you’re ripe and rotting, right?! You shall not rot on my watch this summer (more than you already are, you slowly decaying corpse-in-the-making, you). Memento mori, baby!!
So let’s un-rot you with a Quickie Quiz. But first, a preamble.
Oodles of studies have proven that nature is good for us—our well-being, our mental health, our physical health, our immune system functioning, our perceived life satisfaction, and countless other ecopsychology benefits I’m too lazy to type out right now. Nature: it’s good shit.
According to a recent study, which of these nature-ey factors is most associated with happiness?
A) Nature connectedness (feeling a psychological/ emotional connection with nature)
B) Amount of time spent in nature (e.g.: minimum of 120 minutes a week)
C) Engagement with nature through simple everyday activities (e.g.: smelling flowers)
D) Indirect engagement with nature (e.g.: watching nature documentaries)
E) Knowledge and study of nature (e.g.: taking a nature-based course)
F) Access to ice cream trucks in the park (ones that sell soft-serve cones dipped in decent chocolate)
If you answered A, you came close. That was the number two correlation to happiness, so take your consolation prize and don’t let the door hit you on your way outdoors.
If you answered B, you are wrong but I don’t blame you. Science likes to measure things and we hear a lot about how much time we need to spend in green spaces to hate our lives less.
If you answered C, you get a gold green star! You’re right. This article will elaborate on your rightness.
If you answered D or E, you know by now that you’re wrong. Please don’t be embarrassed.
If you answered F, you’re wrong too, but we must remain friends for life.
The reason I glommed onto this study is because I love it when happiness isn’t hard. I think you like happiness when it’s easy, too, because you’re busy and you’re dealing with TPS reports and you’re busy with your List of All Things Summer. Sometimes we need happiness handed to us on a platter—well, a minimum-effort-required-platter—and I’m here to serve this one up for you.
The myriad benefits of “the great outdoors” don’t require blood, sweat, or tears to realize. (Exception: some sweat may be involved if you are living on the surface of our planet these days. It’s getting hot in here.)
This is immensely good news. We don’t have to spend all sorts of time outside that we don’t have. We don’t have to take a six-week course in environmental studies. We don’t have to watch a documentary on amphibian life history (although Netflix does need to make this). We don’t have to take seven mile hikes or travel to impossibly beautiful locations to squeeze the well-being juice out of what nature has to offer us.
As the researchers of this study so eloquently say, “tuning in to nature is not about time, not about minutes. It is about moments.”
WE HAVE MOMENTS! We don’t have an excess of minutes, but we can fit a few moments in, can we not?
Examples of Mother Nature Moments:
Simply sit outside for a moment (of course a park or garden is nice, but if you work in a concrete jungle, sitting on the bench outside your office high rise will do)
Look up for a moment (notice the color of the sky, the cloud patterns, the way the sunlight streams between the buildings, the bright moon, the satellites blinking in the night sky . . .)
Look down for a moment (tune into the grass—maybe let your bare feet touch the blades for a sec, watch the bugs do their thing, notice the sand/ dirt/ gravel, watch for cool-looking rocks, notice the splashes of raindrops . . .)
Smell (put your nose up to flowers and take an intentionally deep breath in, smell the food trucks, smell the gasoline of a moped whiz by, notice the smell of spring or fall or rain-to-come in the air . . .)
Taste (sample the delights from an herb garden like my sister in Toronto does on the roof of her building in the evening, or revel in the taste of your sandwich as you sit on that bench, or savor the flavor of your wine as you sit on your front doorstep—because things do taste different outside . . .)
Listen (notice the sounds of the birds chirping, the crickets making their sounds of summer, the neighbors’ kids fighting on the trampoline, the sound of the leaves swaying in the wind . . .)
Touch (feel the coolness of the water, the softness of a flower petal, the bark of the tree, the head of a dog passing you by on the sidewalk, the tickle of a ladybug on your arm . . .)
Watch (notice the frenetic dance of a butterfly, the ice-cream-induced smiles of kids and adults alike, the shadow of the sun, the graceful landing of a bird on a branch . . .)
Do anything alfresco (drink a glass of water and stretch outside for two minutes first thing in the morning, eat a meal or snack outside, take an afternoon nap in a backyard hammock like my friend Deb does, read a chapter of your book outside, have a walking meeting in person or by phone, work outside—because your laptop will last a few hours without a plug, babe—and work gets so much more interesting when you’re doing it from a lounge chair/ Starbucks patio/ condo balcony/ pool float . . .)
We don’t have to forest bathe to get the full benefits of nature. We just have to stop for a moment, step outside, and be mindful of what’s going on out there instead of in our usual indoor lives.
And if we have more than a mere moment, we can reorganize our lives to be outside just a little more often . . . like how since moving to Palm Springs, I work outside from our little table in the backyard in the afternoons (except this week because it’s 112º—screw that). This one adjustment to my workday has skyrocketed my happiness, because even though I am an indoor cat through and through, being outside feels somehow vacation-ey, different, creativity-sparking, and connected in some way with the birds that flit (and shit) around me.
Your life might not allow you to work outside after lunch, but who’s stopping you from having your chicken Caesar salad out there? Join me for a cocktail tonight, alfresco. And if you don’t have lots of minutes, just a moment will do.