One of the quickest and most enjoyable ways to snap out of a funk and restore connection is simply spending time in nature. It sounds old-fashioned, like something your grandparents would have recommended to cure depression, but more and more research is proving the older generations right.

There is something magical about being outside in a natural environment. Our senses perk up at the sounds, sights, smells and textures of the natural world. Our energy surges. Our mood lifts. We feel exquisitely alive.

Many psychological studies have confirmed this link between time in nature and increased energy and well-being. They also suggest that we’re more caring and generous to others when we’ve been exposed to nature. It’s now clearly established that just a little time in the natural environment (say, 20 minutes per day) makes us happier, more energetic, and generally better off.

Some interesting recent research has drilled down to see if maybe this is because of the physical, sensory, and/or social activities that typically accompany time outside. The result: no. We just feel better when we’re outside, above and beyond the boost we get from exercising, social interaction and sensory input. What’s especially fascinating about this research is that it found pretending to be in nature also worked to lift our spirits. In one recent study, university students asked to imagine themselves in a natural environment reported the same kind of boost as students who had actually walked outside along a river path.

This really isn’t news, of course. Many cultures have some sort of cleansing, spiritual, or rite-of-passage ritual that requires spending time in the wilderness. There is a word in German —  Waldeinsamkeit — to describe the blissful sensation of becoming one with a forest. In Japan, “forest bathing” has been promoted as a health practice since the 1980s. These cultures clearly understand the power of nature to heal, recenter, and recharge us.

Try creating your own nature ritual to help nurture self-connection. Instead of staying inside during breaks in your day, step outside and find some trees to sit under. Rather than chillax inside on weekends, go for an easy hike somewhere you can hear leaves rustling and birds chirping.

If you can’t get out in nature, take a few minutes and imagine you’re outside in some beautiful natural place. Put yourself there in your mind, and your brain will take care of the rest.


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