Today is launch day for a new happiness and creativity effort called Upbeat Authors, the idea for which came to me as I was reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. To put more positive messages out into a world that seems too often to have nothing but bad news and messages of anger, hatred and negativity, I posted on Facebook that I wanted to form a group of authors who would post weekly messages of happiness and positivity. It was obvious within minutes that this was an idea that many fellow authors liked and needed. Our number grew to more than 225 in only two to three days.
I came to read Rubin’s book when it was suggested to me in the aftermath of a large and scary panic attack I had in early June and the subsequent anxiety I’ve been wading my way through. As I searched for physical reasons for my body acting the way it was (it appears it may be at least partially due to a hormone deficiency), the experience made me want to reexamine my life and search for ways to make it happier, more fulfilling and rewarding. Not that I don’t have a happy life. I just think sometimes we can all benefit from slowing down and taking stock of how we’re doing things and see if there are better, more pleasing ways. I had already begun to try to stay away from negative messages that seem to come from all directions these days – social media, news, things you hear in the line at the grocery store. It’s hard sometimes, partially because my old journalist tendencies like to stay informed. It’s a delicate balance. I read books about making physical changes such as eating and exercising to improve health, the various viewpoints on anxiety and how it comes to torment so many people, and positive ways I can make changes regarding my career. It was Rubin’s book, though, that gave me the idea of how even very small changes, often in just how we look at things, can make a big difference.
That realization was the idea behind the theme of our first week of Upbeat Authors, which will be identified by the hashtag #upbeatauthors on social media. Each week we’ll have a different theme designed to help support and inspire fellow authors, our readers and anyone who could use a bit of positivity, a fresh and happy outlook on life and how to live it. This week’s theme is simple pleasures. Each author will be sharing graphics, social media updates, blogs, etc., on this topic and what it means to them. My choice was the peace that can be found by getting out in nature to take a simple walk away from all the electronic devices and the attention they capture in our daily lives. One of my favorite scents is that of a forest after a rain. Then there’s the salty scent of the ocean to be found as I walk along the beach. The sound of the waves is soothing as is the sound of running water over rocks in a creek. This communing with nature always brings a sense of relaxation and stress relief. It’s easier to smile, easier to breathe.
But it’s not only a simple pleasure that costs nothing. Studies have shown that getting out into natural spaces provides physical and mental health benefits. In addition to the physical activity, according to one study referenced in this article from the New York Times, walks in even a “leafy, quiet, park-like portion” of the Stanford University campus led to a decrease in participants’ tendency to brood, or to think about the negative aspects of their lives.
In Scotland, woodland programs are being used to good effect for patients with long-term mental health issues.
In Japan, heading to the forest for health benefits is known as shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. According to some studies, it reduces the stress hormone cortisol and increases your immune system defenses.
While I have no doubt there is a scientific explanation for the benefits of spending time in nature, I think at least part of the reason we feel good when we do is because of our historic ties to nature. We once lived much closer to it. We didn’t have to make the effort to spend time outside in the green, breathing fresh air and enjoying the quiet only interrupted by birdsong and the wind in the trees. But while the modern world has conveniences, for sure, we have also perhaps lost a peace of mind and natural stress relief we once had without even thinking about it. It seems perhaps that Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stevenson agreed.
It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit. —Robert Louis Stevenson
So if you’re stressed, anxious, depressed or just need a break from the modern world, I encourage you to indulge in the simple pleasure of getting back to nature for a while. Soak it in and let all the bad stuff flow out.
And I hope you’ll look for the #upbeatauthors posts across all platforms today and each Monday. We hope they brighten your day, and we’d love for you to share them with others. The more people we can reach with messages of happiness and positivity, the better.