Getting Muddy Really Can Make You Happier!

Gardening can provide many health benefits

Digging, planting vegetables, harvesting fruits, mowing, weeding, watering and composting! For some people, these are chores to do over the weekend. However, research has shown that gardening can provide many more benefits than merely ticking these tasks off a list. There is suggestive evidence that aspects of a persons environmental context exert significant effects on wellbeing and recovery. Put simply, your environment affects your health!

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There is no actual accepted image of what a model environment should be for any specific one person. This is because of diverse needs of individuals, as well as many cultural, religious or environmental differences and limitations, some of which are placed on us at innate level.

Regardless of the fact there is no universal perfect model of an ideal environmental context, a great way in which you can make a difference and start to improve your direct environment, may be as simple as occasionally getting a little muddy! This is because gardening can actually help you to feel happier, more confident and healthier. It can even help people through a specific period of difficulty in their lives and restore balance when you feel out of control.

Research from Thrive, a charity operating from the UK, attests to the powerful benefits of gardening under 6 specific headings.

Better physical health

Better physical health – gardening is a form of exercise that can be used in rehabilitation, rebuilding strength after an accident or illness. It has been shown it can help improve bone density in older people and can help us in tackling problems such as obesity, which can lead to more serious problems such as diabetes. Also, you can work at your own pace; taking one step at a time.

Improved psychological health – Gardening can be used as a therapeutic vehicle towards fostering deeper spiritual connectedness, increased self-esteem, physical wellness and also social inclusion. There are aspects of gardening that impact greatly on our mental health including its ability to help us with optimism, offering a regular routine, a sense of purpose and achievement. It is also interesting to observe the parallel between the behavior patterns of nurturing of garden and that of self-care. For those who garden in a group there can be additional positive effects on their self- esteem and self-worth.

Social benefits

Social benefits – it has been reported that those who have greater social contact feel healthier. Gardening offers a sustainable interest, which can help people to connect with others and for some, irrespective of age, an opportunity to improve social and communication skills. Volunteering at a garden project or in conservation is a great way to get involved in your local community and enjoy working outdoors, meeting people and making new friends. Families can also reap these social benefits as it can foster intergenerational links. For example- a grandmother sharing gardening with her grandchildren by planting seeds or talking about the shapes and colors with them nurtures a maternal instinct, whilst also opening up the opportunity to provide emotional support and remain an active participant in her child’s life through the connection with her grandchildren.

Qualifications and skills – a recognized horticultural qualification can increase the chances of employment. Taking part in structured gardening activities offers the opportunity to improve skills such as initiative, co-operation, patience, concentration as well as numeracy and literacy all of which are useful in all areas of life. Moreover, over the last 3 decades the number of active gardeners under 50 has decreased. As it is becomes a specialized skill, teaching and employment opportunities increase further.

Access to the natural environment

Access to the natural environment – research in environmental psychology shows that the natural environment promotes recovery from stress and helps to restore the ability to focus attention. Gardens provide restorative environments. Being outside, getting fresh air and seeing things grow are important to us as human beings. Gardening allows us to connect with nature.

This interaction with nature can also provide a perceived sense of freedom. It may provide individuals with the opportunity to feel emancipated from the perceived human need to engage and maintain an occupational identity as a contributing member of our society. Arguably, this can help to provide perspective especially to those caught up in their environmental created ideals of success where the pressure of social conformity and the accompanying fear of failure provide a recipe for stress and overload.

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Social Component to Healing

Moreover, those suffering from forms of mental illness may also be in a state of social isolation. In such cases, the lack of social pressure may make gardening a safe space to relax and feel free and start to reconnect. Moreover, for those older Individuals who have journeyed though varying life experiences, occupations and adopted various occupational roles, may take solace in the safety of the perceived freedom gardening can offer.

It is interesting to observe the relationship between these 6 benefits. As one benefit is increased it has the ability to make the other benefit more accessible. For example, there is a causal relationship between increased physical health and the psychological benefit of that better physical health.

It can however seem a daunting task to get started. Just because there is benefit from undertaking a certain occupation does not make it easy to start. With gardening however, there is good news. You can start small. Here are a few ideas – which you don’t even need a garden for, to help get you started:

  • Houseplants are a cheap and easy way to experiment with growing things. Try local plant sales and yard sales or ask a friend or neighbor for a cutting.
  • Most health food shops and garden centers now sell seeds and beans for sprouting – try growing your own beansprouts, which will be ready for eating in as little as a week.
  • A chili plant will thrive on a sunny windowsill–look out for ‘plug’ plants in garden centers. Of course you won’t get the exercise of more strenuous gardening but you’ll still benefit from the pleasure of seeing something that you have nurtured grow – and you can garden inside if the weather is bad or you just don’t feel up to venturing out.

It clear that gardening provides such a wide spectrum of benefits at all levels of engagement with it. It can be a simple and safe way to do something really kind for you. Through gardening we can witness so many cycles of growth and change. We can nourish our creativity and expression. There is often hardly ever a quick ride to contentment but overall, gardening can provide significant building blocks for positive self-growth.

Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful: they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul.

Luther Burbank, botanist and horticulturist, 1849 – 1926