It’s True! Gardening Makes You Happy

May 1, 2015 | By | 1 Reply More

gardening makes you happy

My vegetable garden in spring 2014

I’ve always called my garden my “happy place.” When the garden’s in full swing, it’s the first place I want to go each morning. I take a stroll through with a cup of coffee and see what’s coming up, marvel at the hummingbirds coming to visit the feeders and the flowers, and get centered for my day.

I know for sure that since I discovered gardening, I’m happier, plain and simple. Being in the garden and getting lost in the tasks at hand when I’m feeling down or stressed out is the best therapy there is. Using my hands and body to accomplish something tangible is a needed antidote to my daily grind of sitting in a cubicle under artificial lights, staring at a screen and using only my mind. Hanging out in my garden is a multi-sensory experience with the beauty around me, the green-ness of the plants, the sounds of the birds and bees, and the fragrance of the herbs and flowers. I even like the feel of the dirt in my hands.

But, is there more to this for people who love to garden, something above and beyond the simple enjoyment of a hobby? It turns out that there are a number of real reasons why gardening makes you happy. If you’ve got the blues, get outside and start playing in the dirt if you don’t already!

gardening makes you happyBack in 2007, researchers at Bristol University in England discovered that a beneficial bacteria found in soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, activates brain cells to produce serotonin. When gardeners have contact with garden soil, they breathe in this bacteria, they have topical contact with it and sometimes, it can even enter the body through cuts and abrasions on the hands. The ensuing release of serotonin mimics the effects of prescription anti-depressants. And, there are no ill side effects.

Serotonin is an important chemical for a happy brain and it’s even linked to a stronger immune system. Low serotonin levels have been linked to feelings of depression. Our society has become increasingly detached from good ‘ol dirt as we pander to our phobias of germs and our hyper-sensitivity about safety. There has been some emerging research that when kids don’t have access to dirt early in life, they can develop increased allergies, asthma complications and even mental deficiencies.

gardening makes you happy

Hibiscus, the happiest flowers ever

Besides working the soil, harvesting is another feel-good activity in the garden. If you’ve ever grown your own food, you know there is a special joy in harvesting those very first crops of the season. Way back in our evolutionary history, we had to hunt and gather our food for survival and harvesting food from a garden mimics this activity. When we do things that contribute to our basic survival, a special reward-motivation forms and triggers a release of dopamine, another important chemical in the brain.

It’s thought that our modern-day condition of lavish abundance and never really having to work for our next meal has caused us to unconsciously seek this dopamine-induced reward-motivation in less healthy ways. Some people get the same rush from buying a new pair of shoes as I get from picking a basket of sun-ripened tomatoes. I often remind Mr. President that even when I’m spending too much time in the garden, at least I’m not spending my weekends (and my money!) at Nordstrom. Who needs a new handbag when I’ve got beautiful beans to pick.

I was amazed when I was doing the research for this post about how much information exists to support the idea that gardening makes you happy. Therapy programs have been built at schools for troubled kids, prisons, and senior citizens’ centers that incorporate gardening. Fresh air, good dirt, and good food – it all makes me want to get out there even more!







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