On this International Day of Happiness, we’re looking inside ourselves to find our happy place. In our second extract from mindfulness expert Dr Elise Bialylew’s ‘The Happiness Plan’ – a 28-day program that helps readers find peace and positivity– we’re looking at the ways the great outdoors can make our inner selves feel truly great.
If you live in the city, as I do, it can be easy to forget about the power of nature to generate positive emotions. Today, take some time to reflect on your calendar and commit to scheduling some time in nature. Although intuitively we know nature is good for us, there is a large body of scientific evidence to support the saying that ‘green is good’.
- A study by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan revealed that ‘office workers with a view of nature liked their jobs more, enjoyed better health and reported greater life satisfaction’.
- Roger S Ulrich, director of the Center for Health Systems and Design at Texas A&M University, conducted a famous study which found that nature can help the body heal. He discovered that patients who were recovering from abdominal surgery that had views of trees had easier recoveries, needed less pain medication and had fewer complications than those whose rooms faced brick walls.
- David Strayer, cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah, demonstrated that after three days of wilderness backpacking a group of participants performed fifty per cent better on creative problem-solving tasks. He called this the ‘three-day effect’ and described it as a kind of cleaning of the mental windshield that occurs when we’ve been immersed in nature long enough.
- Finally, a Stanford-led study has found that walking in nature could lower the risk of depression. The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found that people who walked for ninety minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with depression.
For millennia, Indigenous Australians have recognised the power of nature to help anchor us in the present, supporting our wellbeing and wisdom. The traditional practice of ‘dadirri’ is a way to incorporate mindfulness into our experience of nature, and gives us a sense of our interconnectedness with all things. Aboriginal writer Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann describes the practice:
“Dadirri is inner, deep listening and quiet, a still awareness. Dadirri recognises the deep spring that is inside us. We call on it and it calls to us. It is something like what you call ‘contemplation’. When I experience dadirri, I am made whole again. I can sit on the riverbank or walk through the trees; even if someone close to me has passed away, I can find my peace in this silent awareness. There is no need for words. A big part of dadirri is listening. In our Aboriginal way, we learned to listen from our earliest days. This was the normal way for us to learn. We learned by watching and listening, waiting and then acting. Our people have passed on this way of listening for over 40,000 years… There is no need to reflect too much and to do a lot of thinking. It is just being aware.”
Connect with nature
Today, set aside five or ten minutes to connect deeply with nature, inspired by the practice of dadirri.
- Choose something specific in nature to focus on. It could be a bird, a flower, a blade of grass, the ocean, a cloud, or you could go on a nature walk and let something capture your attention.
- Spend some time being with this natural object. Connect initially with your own breath and body, and then bring your attention to the object of your choice. Just relax and allow yourself to be still and silent in the presence of this natural object.
- Following this quiet mindful practice, you may feel moved to express the experience in some way. Journal about what it felt like, write a poem to nature, or imagine you are the object you were focusing on. Perhaps draw something, or paint.
- Remember to arrive at the process with no pressure to do or create, but rather to allow yourself time to simply be with nature. If something creative comes, see it as a bonus.
A tip for connecting with nature
In this modern world it can be so easy to forget our connection to nature. Just like the cycles of nature that constantly change, the rhythm of the breath is always changing. During your meditation this week, remember that you breathe in oxygen received from the trees around you, and you breathe out carbon dioxide, sustaining nature with your breath. In this way you can sense the very direct connection you have with nature.