It’s the start of a new year and for many people that means the making (and maybe breaking…) of new year’s resolutions. While I don’t make resolutions myself, ticking over into a new year does make me more mindful of my tendencies and habits. It’s important to tweak or phase some things out from time to time, and maybe even to introduce a new practice or two for the benefit of your total well-being.
One thing that always seems to better my life at any given moment is spending time in nature, and it’s something I strive to do even more of. There are a TON of ways in which being in a natural setting for even a short amount of time can improve well-being. Many studies have been done showing nature’s ability to boost mood and self-esteem, inspire awe (which in turn fosters kindness and other prosocial behaviors), improve creative reasoning, and reduce stress.
With all this in mind, here are seven suggestions for anyone resolving to get their nature fix in this new year.
1 – Take up an outdoors-based hobby
Your new out-in-nature activity could be geocaching, trail running, rowing, fly-fishing, mountain biking, photography… You name it. Pick something that has a draw for you and give it a try. A friend recently introduced me and my S.O. to geocaching, and we’ve really taken to it. All you need is a smartphone, an app, and a sense of adventure. It’s a great way to get to know where you live – or a completely unknown place – a lot better, and it might just make you feel like a big kid on a scavenger hunt.
2 – Join an outdoorsy club in your local area
Joining a local walking, cycling, or other outdoors-oriented club could be great for a number of reasons. For one thing, you may feel more motivated to commit to your goal of getting active and getting outside if you’re doing it with a group of like-minded individuals. In a different way, I know the positive impact on regular practice that a group setting can contribute; when I stopped being able to attend a meditation class because of my work schedule, I wasn’t very good at keeping up with my personal practice at home. Another reason to join a group? You might just make a few friends, and that’s always a nice thing.
3 – Visit your local green spaces more often
Big, small – it’s all good. Even a 5 minute walk in green space has been shown to work wonders on our overall mental health. And if you can find a space that combines both green AND blue (i.e. a lake, a river, an ocean), then that’s even better.
4 – Get your green thumb on
This could mean doing a bit of gardening, or – if you don’t have a yard – finding a space in your home that can host a miniature indoor garden of potted plants. Research indicates that being around plants at home or in the workplace can help you concentrate and feel less stressed. Household and workplace plants will even help purify the air around you. All types of plants will do you a bit of good, but researchers have suggested spider plants, English ivy, aloe vera, peace lilies, and Japanese royal ferns as top filterers for your home or office.
5 – Study or work outside, if able
If you’re a student, there may be small ways of getting a dose of nature while you study. When I was working through my BA in Anthropology at Vanderbilt University some years back, I was quite fortunate as the campus was also a national arboretum. I used to love climbing up this one grand old magnolia tree, finding a comfortable tangle of branches to sit back on, and reading a good book or doing a bit of journaling. Not every student will have access to a whole arboretum, of course, but every campus nowadays has at least a little bit of green space that can be taken advantage of.
If you work out of an office, try to take a break outside when feasible. Sometimes people even have ‘moving meetings,’ in which colleagues might discuss ideas while walking outside in the sunshine.
6 – Enjoy the show that is right outside your window
I’ve been visiting home for the past few weeks (I live in England right now, but my family is in Texas), and one simple but wonderful thing that my parents and I have really enjoyed together has been watching out the windows as birds and squirrels come to the seed and suet feeders in our backyard. It’s really a delight watching them all congregate and interact, as well as learning to identify all the different types and how they behave. The squirrels, with their – ahem – nutty behavior, are especially entertaining.
Take a few minutes here and there just to look outside and appreciate what is there – trees, birds, clouds, or what have you. It’s all beautiful.
7 – Plan to travel somewhere with lots of access to nature
If you’re thinking of going on a vacation sometime this year, consider choosing a destination which affords lots of access to green and blue spaces. If you’re after a bit more inner peace this year, maybe save that whirlwind tour of New York City for another time…