Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike. – John Muir, The Yosemite
Happiness is a relative term. Many see it as a goal to be achieved and worked for, others treat happiness as a process and see positivity in the journey. Whichever way you look at it; the simple fact remains that everyone wants to be happy. How such happiness comes about is different for every person, but in my observation, the truest happiness in life comes from things not so easily bought or sold.
Studies have shown that there is a distinct relationship between spending time in nature and human happiness. In a study by students at Carleton University in Canada, researchers found that their results of testing the overlaps between different types of human connections supported “the notion that nature relatedness could be a path to human happiness and environmental sustainability.” Nature relatedness is the fancy psychologist term for the idea that humans come from the natural world and are therefore meant to live in and be a part of it, and doing so relates to their overall well-being. This environmental worldview sees the connection between people and nature as one that cultivates positive feelings. This idea is seen in many spiritual, cultural, and environmental belief systems around the world—from ideas used in Yoga to Native American spiritualties, a connection with the earth is believed to be the main driving force of life.
For me, happiness is related closely to peace, but there are few things in the modern world that foster real peace. We as a society move at such a fast pace that we forget to slow down and take a moment to just be. Nature is a source of peace and happiness for many people and has been in existence for as long as the world has. When one goes into nature, the natural rhythm replaces the music blasting from headphones, authentic internal self-reflection replaces artificial social media interaction, and a close-up view of the most beautiful things on earth replaces selfies or Snapchat. There is a realness present in nature that is very difficult to truly mimic on technology created by man. There is a connection with the earth that we as humans are drawn to because it is where we come from.
Connection. A simple word that for many has more to do with an internet signal than the actual act of connecting with a person, place, or thing. Connection on broad terms is practiced in many forms and is what our human race thrives on. The nature of our connection with others and the things around us is the foundation for what we deem important in our lives.
Personally, I have gone through many stages of connectedness with nature – of making sure I get outside and away from the city versus ignoring it altogether. There are many excuses, all of which I have used to convince myself that it is not important, that there are just too many things on my to-do list to even think about going outside. I would tell myself there is simply not enough time in the day to give up an hour to go on a quick hike, or spend a Saturday on the coast. I would tell myself these things as I settled in to watch yet another hour of television or surfing on the Internet. I look back and shudder to think of how much time I wasted being unhappy when the solution was right outside my window.
Taking a step back, I realized that being in nature has always led to more inspiration, to more journaling, soul-searching, and general well-being. When I was growing up, I spent my summers in the Mineral King Valley, a place in the High Sierras of California, with no phone or Internet connection, and no electricity. Each meal took hours to prepare on a wood-burning stove, and refrigeration came from the multitude of ice chests brought up the mountain. I remember my time there as a child with vibrant clarity—running wild and exploring the forest. I stopped going once I became old enough to have summer priorities like sports and summer school. By high school, the annual trip to Mineral King was a distant memory, one that I declined with excuses, even though many extended family members took the trip regardless.
My first year of college was very hard emotionally; I was lonely, depressed, and not finding many reasons for smiling by the time the year ended. As I thought about my upcoming summer, I decided to once again spend a week in the forest I had grown up in. It was the best decision I could have made, and all of a sudden I was inspired again.
Not-so-surprisingly, I was happier than I had been in many years. I now go every year, just to make sure I have that time of self-reflection and a week away from technology. It is a very refreshing and beautiful thing not to have to worry about being a slave to my phone or computer, nor to have any societal pressures standing in the way of feeling everything I needed to feel.
Because a large part of being in nature is being present. As a society, we have become less aware than ever, wrapped up in technology, and running around trying to catch up with work and social lives that we often forget to take a step back and really find time just for us.
Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity. – John Muir, Our National Parks
John Muir was onto something. These concrete jungles that we are convinced are home, are really the socially constructed idea of what home should look like. Vacations to the great outdoors are often seen as a rare treat, when really, we should visit them regularly. Why work tirelessly for years to save up for a vacation, when you could find the same peace and happiness by taking a break from the city and finding the nearest piece of nature to escape into? Why long for the outside world but fail to make time for going outside a priority?
Everyone finds happiness in his or her own way, but I have never heard of anyone becoming unhappy as a direct result of spending time in nature. So, give it a try! Turn your weekly workout on the treadmill into a hike on a nearby trail. Turn your next family bonding day into a day trip to the closest body of water or forest. Try spending time in nature alone, and see what inspirations come of it. The possibilities are endless, as are the feelings of happiness that could await you.