People get outside in some capacity each week. For some, that might mean going from their front door to their car. For others, that might mean going for a run or starting out with an unrealized dream of skateboarding. For still others, getting outside is a way of life, with plenty of trips to hike, bike, and get into open air and water. Whether you are the type to see nature only as you pass by it on the way to your car, or you deliberately seek nature out, it may surprise you to learn that the great outdoors has been consistently and positively associated with feelings of happiness and contentment.
Defining and Recognizing Happiness
It may seem an easy enough task to recognize or define happiness, but it can actually be a tricky practice. Different cultures and generations see happiness in different ways, and can more easily identify happiness based on a specific prescription. Despite potential differences in thoughts about happiness, however, many people agree that a definition of happiness includes experiencing a sense of satisfaction, safety, and a sense of being alive. Happiness can come in fleeting moments and feel like a swelling in the chest, or it can come as a sustained state, wherein life as a whole seems to be moving in the right direction or a desired trajectory. To quantify happiness, we can turn to psychology, which typically defines happiness as an emotion characterized by feeling satisfied, joyful, or having a general sense of well-being.
Linking Happiness and the Outdoors
While the precise mechanism behind the link between happiness and the outdoors is not fully understood, research studies continually indicate that the outdoors have a positive effect on mood, cognitive ability, and even social connections and interactions. People who are regularly exposed to or immersed in nature report higher levels of happiness and satisfaction, and decreased incidences of mental illness.
Getting outside comes in many different flavors and forms. To successfully reap the benefits of nature, you can walk through a park, play in the grass in a yard or garden, go to the beach, or simply take a walk down a tree-lined street. You do not have to hike through a forest or leap into a lake to see a difference in mood and general well being from nature immersion.
Some researchers have posited that the joy and sense of peace derived from the outdoors is due to simple frequencies. Just as human beings are electrical beings with specific impulses and frequencies coursing through their bodies, other elements and creatures in nature have frequencies and impulses and aligning them feels peaceful and comforting. Others have suggested that the happiness that comes from being outdoors comes from an influx of clean air, the endorphins delivered by exercise, and exposure to sunlight and the elements. Still others have not declared a definitive cause of the link, but instead have simply acknowledged that there does seem to be one.
Finding Ways to Get Outside
Now that we’ve established the value of getting outside, the practical application of getting outside can be an issue. Many people work long hours, don’t have quick or easy access to lots of green space, or have never really been exposed to a lifestyle that includes a great deal of time spent outdoors. Fortunately, the exact manner in which you get outside does not matter as much as you might expect. If there is a street lined with trees, flowers, or even a community garden nearby, strolling down that street can effectively “count” as nature exposure. If you have a garden visible outside of your office window, regularly taking breaks to gaze out over the garden may help your mental health and general feeling of happiness.
Two hours per week in nature is said to most effectively improve your health, but every little bit helps. Even 20 minutes each day is enough to have a positive impact on your health and well being. If you practice yoga asana, consider practicing in your yard or your apartment’s green space. If you prefer body weight exercises, why not utilize a local playground rather than gym equipment? Taking animals for a walk, walking to your favorite coffee shop, or committing to one hike at a local park or forest can all help you begin a consistent and powerful routine linked to happiness.
Seeking Happiness Through Getting Outside
While getting outside is most often associated with exercise or activity, there is far more to being in nature than getting in a quick run or getting from point A to point B. Happiness comes in many forms and is derived from many things, as plenty of articles can tell you, but there is a unique attribute in nature that encourages people to feel an increased sense of wellness, wholeness, and satisfaction. While getting outside cannot take the place of mental or physical health interventions, it can be a part of a well-rounded, lifestyle-based approach to improved mental and physical health.
If getting outside feels impossible due to a busy schedule, walking to work, taking small breaks to walk outside and breathe deeply in and out, and having your meals on a porch or patio can all help you get one step closer. If a dislike of bugs, pests, and other creatures found in nature frequently keeps you indoors, practice going outside in small increments, in controlled conditions. If money or proximity is an issue, research local parks programs to find more ways to get outdoors. Regardless of where you live and how many consecutive hours you have to get outside, with some dedication and creativity, you can implement an outdoor happiness practice of your own.
This post was developed via a partnership with BetterHelp.