According to the Chinese proverb: ‘If you want to be happy for a day, get drunk; for a month, get married; for life, be a gardener.’ Well, I’m not about to comment on the pros and cons of married life or the vices of drink, but the last point is something we can probably all agree on: gardening makes us happy.
Whether you are new to gardening or a seasoned grower looking to spend more time doing what you love, rest assured that gardening is one of the most sustainable ways to long-term health and happiness. Time outdoors, hands in the dirt, is good for mind, body and soul. And there’s plenty of scientific evidence to prove it.
You may have prescribed yourself more gardening as part of a healthy New Year’s Resolution. Or perhaps you simply want to grow more food to save money. Whatever your motivation, you’re onto a good thing and have my permission to feel very pleased with your decision! Here’s why...
Any physical exercise promotes a healthy body, and gardening is no exception. Digging, raking, crouching to weed, reaching to harvest, walking, lifting – just a few of the ways gardening burns the calories and tones the muscles. In fact, just half an hour's weeding burns around 100 calories, while the same time spent digging burns up to 250 calories. Movement like this also raises the heartbeat, which is the best way to guard against heart disease.
Gardening is exercise by stealth. Busying ourselves in the garden has a tendency to keep us completely absorbed the moment. Think of it as a practical form of mindfulness. No clock watching and less of the expletive-inducing slog of a gym workout! Before you know it an afternoon has passed and you have completed a thorough workout, without even realising it.
Gardening Makes You Happy
Time spent outdoors in a natural environment is incredibly important for mental and social wellbeing. Sadly too many of us, especially children, suffer from ‘nature-deficit disorder’, with ramifications for behaviour, self-worth and life satisfaction.
Significant research supports the benefits of being outside. One report by the UK’s National Trust cites evidence showing that children’s concentration and behaviour improves when lessons are held outside, while the symptoms of children diagnosed with ADHD also improves with exposure to nature.
Green gyms – outdoor sessions of guided physical activities such as tree planting and footpath clearance – are increasingly gaining in popularity among enlightened doctors who recognise the natural healing power of time in nature. Charities like Thrive exist to offer gardening as therapy for those living with disabilities, ill health or in isolation. Your garden isn’t just a space to grow plants – it’s a convenient place to get your fix of nature and boost your mood and self-esteem.
Gardening and Mood
Incredibly, recent research even reveals that the soil itself literally makes us happy, and it’s all down to a specific bacteria found within it. When we touch soil with our bare hands or inhale it as we tend our plants, we take in traces of Mycobacterium vaccae, which prompts our body to release the chemical serotonin. Serotonin is a natural anti-depressant that makes us happier. It also supports a healthy immune system. I always knew there was magic in the muck!
More time in the garden puts us in direct contact with the huge variety of microbes that up until very recently were an integral part of our daily lives. Exposure to this universe of bacteria, fungi and protozoa stave off wider health problems, not least depression and autoimmune diseases. Could it be that modern lives are just a little too sanitised? Perceived wisdom tells us that a bit of dirt never did us any harm. In fact, a bit of dirt does us the power of good. No wonder you rarely find a grumpy gardener!
Serotonin is one of two chemicals that keeps us happy. The other is dopamine, which affects our emotions. The act of picking our own fruits and vegetables is shown to release dopamine in the brain, triggering feelings of mild euphoria and bliss. This is the natural reward pathway that kept our hunter-gatherer forebears on their toes but that today is blamed for modern addictions such as compulsive shopping or our obsessions with social media. Gardening on the other hand is a far healthier ‘addiction’, one that builds on rather than detracting from mental and physical health.
Gardening for Life
So whatever stage you are at on your gardening journey, take heart in the fact you’re doing something truly positive for yourself and the wider environment. Remember, a garden is a long-term project and a perfect plot won’t happen overnight. Gardeners must adopt a change in perspective that commits to a slower but ultimately more satisfying way of doing things.
Don’t forget, we are here to help, every step of the way. Please let us know how gardening makes you feel in the comments section below. What do you most enjoy about getting dirt under your fingernails?