I have often written about the many benefits of being in nature which include increased feelings of well-being and happiness, reduced stress levels, improved concentration and lowered blood pressure. This summer has offered many opportunities to explore varied outdoor environments and I was fortunate enough to return to a favourite place, Stourhead Gardens in Wiltshire, U.K. This garden was created nearly 300 years ago by Capability Brown, the garden is mainly set around a lake and has been carefully designed to incorporate different views of magnificent trees, stone buildings and reflections in the lake itself.
Appreciation of Beauty
Whilst at the gardens I thought how beautifully they incorporated many of the main principles and tools of positive psychology. It is very hard not to use the strength of ‘appreciation of beauty’ as you look across the lake towards the Temple of Flora, or when you stand beneath the towering trees. It is hard not to slow down and enjoy savouring details such as the sun reflecting on the water or the scent from late flowering rhododendrons.
The thing that struck me more than normal was wonder at the planning and patience that has gone into designing and maintaining this beautiful garden. The original designers and gardeners had a strong vision to enhance nature’s natural beauty. However, they would not have lived long enough to see the plants fully mature, yet they designed the garden knowing that it would develop and continue to give pleasure to benefit future generations.
Random Acts of Kindness
This led me to think about the things we do in our lives and how I can take a leaf out the gardener’s book and make sure that many of my actions have positive benefits for others, such as random acts of kindness. Just like the garden designed for future generations, these acts are often done for people we do not know and they have a ripple effect of positive emotions spreading out to the wider community.
While at Stourhead, I wondered what it would be like for the original designers and gardeners to return today. During their lifetime, they would not have seen the full magnificence of the mature trees. What would they make of the way the garden has been maintained? Which trees would they recognise? Which viewpoints are as they originally planned and which have changed? Would they be pleased with the alterations?
Another positive psychology principle that was evoked while at the gardens was a sense of flow. I could imagine the designers working together, discussing what plants should go where and how a certain view should be framed. The challenge of making the garden awe inspiring would have tested the designer’s capabilities enabling them to enter the flow state. The gardeners would also have experienced flow as they immersed themselves in digging and planting, losing themselves in the moment.
Today we are all able to benefit from this wonderful garden or somewhere similar. Wherever you are in the world, go out into nature, into a park or garden and reflect on the imagination, planning and patience that created that space.
I’d love to hear of the gardens and outdoor spaces that inspire you. Leave a note below.
About the author: Bryony Shaw