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Category: Health & Wellness / Topics: Advice, Guidance & Mentoring Attitudes Nature Optimal Aging Stress Wellness

To Get Out of Your Head, Get Out of Your House

by Arthur C. Books /The Atlantic

Posted: August 20, 2022

Spending time in nature can help relieve stress and anxiety…

Editor's Note: Do you spend much, if any, time outdoors? If you think that life is America is just one big political debate, I've been inspired recently by the PBS series "America Outdoors with Baratunde Thurston." It will give you a sense of the vastness of America and an expansive, refreshing look at people who find great meaning and purpose through their connection with the outdoors. I also found on Pocket this article by Arthur C. Brooks, writing in The Atlantic. Following is an excerpt, with a link to the full article and many other resources at the bottom of this page.

The image chosen to illustrate this story was purposely selected to emphasize that enjoying the outdoors is not limited to those who can walk for miles in rugged terrain or engage in adventurous activities (through many seniors certainly can), but is often available close at hand and may be made even more enjoyable in the company of others.

One hundred and sixty years ago, in this magazine, Henry David Thoreau lamented that humankind was losing contact with nature. “Here is this vast, savage, hovering mother of ours, Nature, lying all around, with such beauty, and such affection for her children, as the leopard,” he wrote, “and yet we are so early weaned from her breast to society, to that culture which is exclusively an interaction of man on man.

The situation is undoubtedly worse today; after all, the percentage of Americans working outdoors fell from 90 percent at the beginning of the 19th century to less than 20 percent at the close of the 20th century. We show the same pattern in our pursuit of leisure: According to the Outdoor Foundation, Americans went on 1 billion fewer outings in nature in 2018 compared with 2008. Today, 85 percent of adults say they spent more time outside when they were kids than children do today.. . .

The trend away from nature over the past few centuries, and especially the past few decades, has straightforward explanations. To begin with, the world’s population has urbanized, so nature is less at hand. According to U.S. census data, 6.1 percent of the American population resided in urban areas in 1800; in 2000, 79 percent did. Second, no matter where we live, technology is displacing the outdoors in our attention: A 2017 study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives noted that screen time is rising rapidly for all age groups—adults averaged 10 hours and 39 minutes a day in 2016—even as hunting, fishing, camping, and children’s outdoor play have declined substantially., , ,

If nature is absent from your life, you are likely unhappier, more neurotic, and less productive than necessary. I strongly recommend that you redress this matter as soon as possible—this summer, perhaps—and then incorporate new protocols into your life.

First, if you are taking a vacation this year, spend as much time outdoors as possible. My own favorite vacation consists of walking for days on end—I sleep indoors but am outside 16 hours a day. It energizes me like nothing else. Even sleeping under the stars, without all the attendant trekking, might help. . . .

Second, use nature to recalibrate your body along with your mind. Researchers have found that exposure to natural light (but not artificial light) synchronizes your internal circadian clock to the rising and setting of the sun. Ditch your devices and even artificial lights for a few days, and sleeping naturally might be easier than ever. , , ,

Third, build contact with the outdoors into your daily schedule as much as you can. During the pandemic shutdowns of 2020, I started walking after lunch and dinner, following a pattern found in so-called Blue Zones, where people tend to live with good health into old age. I quickly found that it calmed me down and helped me focus on what truly matters: my faith, family, and friendships, and the meaning in my work. . .

Maybe you’re simply not an outdoors person. “Humans created buildings for a reason,” my father once reminded me when I suggested that we go camping. The weather, the bugs, the lack of bathrooms and comfy beds—I get it. But you might be underestimating the benefits and overestimating the discomfort. Research from 2011 in the journal Psychological Science shows, for example, that people think they will enjoy walking in nature less than they actually do.

If you still need convincing, maybe a few more words from Thoreau will help. “I was walking in a meadow, the source of a small brook, when the sun at last, just before setting, after a cold, gray day, reached a clear stratum in the horizon,” he wrote in 1862. In this ordinary experience, he found the sublime, as if he were walking to the Holy Land—“till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has done, shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, as warm and serene and golden as on a bankside in autumn.”

Arthur C. Brooks is a contributing writer at The Atlantic,the William Henry Bloomberg Professor of the Practice of Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School, and a professor of management practice at the Harvard Business School. He’s the the author of From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life.

How to Build a Lifeis a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness. Click here to listen to his podcast series on all things happiness, How to Build a Happy Life.

Read the full article and get more resources at The Atlantic.

Search all articles by Arthur C. Books

Posted: August 20, 2022

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