Whilst grabbing a few moments to sit and have lunch outdoors recently, I became aware of the unrealised potentially therapeutic nature of the home environment. I love my home but don’t think I have fully appreciated its role in my wellbeing and for the embodiment of Positive Psychology, so maybe it’s the same for you?
Positive Psychology, mindfulness and nature-connectedness
As I noticed the range of coloured flowers and plants, felt the sun warming my skin and the gentle breeze cooling it, I became much more relaxed and in the moment. In mindfully focusing on the sensation of breathing in fresh air, savouring the smell, taste and textures of my lunch, the sounds of the fountain in the pond, birds singing and daily life going on around me, I felt immense gratitude and awe at the beauty and healing power of nature. Normally this feeling would be associated with walking in the woods or being away on holiday and yet after just a few minutes practising mindfulness in my relatively small garden, I experienced profound peace, happiness and a sense of nature-connectedness without going anywhere.
Feeling relaxed, I also thought of the opportunities to engage in exercise, whether playing games with the kids, gardening or cleaning the patio and the social connectivity in growing and sharing food at barbeques or picnics, feeling a sense of community on hearing neighbours in their gardens too. Maybe I need to get out more…
It’s easy to blame greater urbanisation, lack of greenspace and increased use of technology for reducing our exposure to nature, but maybe we just don’t make the time to appreciate greenspace in and around our own home and if we don’t, neither will our kids.
Selhub and Logan (2012) describe greenspace as ‘vitamin G’ – an essential nutrient for mental health – citing nature exposure as a potential antidote to ‘videophilia’ (the increased use of screen-based technology), which is considered partly responsible for ‘nature deprivation’ especially in young people. They add that spending less time in greenspace as children “removes a layer of protection against psychological stress and cognitive rejuvenation” pp. 52. Louv (2005) even relates Attention Deficit Disorder to Nature Deficit Disorder; so why is nature so important?
According to Wilson (1984), the biophilia hypothesis, humans have an innate urge to connect with other forms of life including plants, animals and natural landscapes. Kaplan’s Attention Restoration Theory (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989) highlighted the restorative, rejuvenating therapeutic quality of nature and the benefits to health of even a view of greenspace through a window. Other research supports the effects of even brief periods in or viewing nature which can “reduce the stress hormone cascade and improve immune defence” pp.21 (Selhub & Logan, 2012). So could nature become a positive psychology intervention for everyday life?
Taking chores outdoors
Preparing vegetables, ironing and reading can be more enjoyable in the garden. Being outdoors might also stimulate curiosity and love of learning about nature, animals and the planet. Becoming mindful of the colours, scents and sounds of the plants, flowers and trees and of regular visitors – birds, fish, frogs, insects and squirrels only takes a few moments and you can even do it whilst washing up.
Your garden or back yard could also provide opportunities to show kindness, to the earth through green habits such as organic gardening and recycling old wellies, cans, and teapots etc. as planters and to animals and insects through feeding and planting bee-friendly shrubs and flowers. Gardening provides the opportunity for the mastery of new skills and creativity in design.
So, rather than filling my lunch ‘break’ with more tasks such as preparing tea as I often do – not taking a break at all – I felt restored, more zestful and motivated for the afternoons work. Spending more time in the garden and savouring the view whilst indoors – even if just a few moments before or after school or work- could be the first step to creating more positive habits and reducing stress in both adults and children.
Bite sized and personalised: Therapeutic Positive habits at home
Sometimes we only really ‘switch off’ when on holiday, associating rest and relaxation with travelling to ‘get away from it all.’ Holidays can be expensive and taking time off doesn’t always fit in easily with work and family commitments, so tend to be an infrequent event sometime in the future. Preparing for the ‘perfect holiday’ can lead to a flurry of activity that results in exhaustion and spending the first couple of days unwinding before you can truly relax. It can also lead to disappointment if things don’t go to plan…. the weather, flight delays, stomach upsets… But we don’t have to book days or weeks off, spend money, travel, own a mansion or have a degree in Positive Psychology to feel good. Bite-sized, manageable steps in our own home according to our personal needs and circumstances can become everyday habits.
Green and clean
- Bring nature indoors: ‘Green-up’ with house plants, natural objects and pictures.
- Spend less time using technology: and more time reading, listening to music or with family and friends can be more enjoyable and strengthens social bonds.
- Integrate mindfulness and Positive psychology interventions such as gratitude and appreciation of beauty into daily routines: like cleaning, washing up and ironing to make it easier to fit into a busy schedule: focusing on the task in hand, appreciating possessions, reminiscing through photographs and noticing the results of our efforts.
- De-clutter: Marilyn Paul (2004) suggests to reduce stress and spending 3 minutes bringing every room back to ‘ready’ before leaving the house: Gretchen Rubin advocates spending 3 minutes every day making your bed to positively impact your health.
Why not get creative and see how many ways you can use positive psychology at home. Whether you love dancing to your favourite music while cleaning, meditating in your ‘sacred space,’ or entertaining your family and friends – do more of it! Make the most of the therapeutic nature of your home and garden, every day. In Positive Psychology these concepts can be both a character strength and an intervention:
Savouring is the process of noticing, appreciating and enhancing positive experiences. Savouring is often used to describe enjoying something pleasant to eat but in Positive Psychology it also refers to attending intently to an experience, feelings and surroundings. We can savour the past through reminiscing, the present moment (as in mindfulness) or the future (anticipating).
Mindfulness is described by Jon Kabat-Zinn as the “awareness that arises through paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally”. Mindfulness is included in Positive Psychology as an increasingly mainstream intervention which is consistently shown to have positive effects on health and well-being.
Gratitude involves being thankful, or ‘counting your blessings’ for the people, experiences and circumstances in your life. Research shows that people who regularly practice gratitude are happier, more energetic, empathetic, forgiving, helpful and optimistic and experience more positive emotions which make them less prone to anxiety, depression, loneliness and neurosis.
Appreciation of beauty and excellence (awe) refers to a sense of wonder and elevation you might experience on being in nature, viewing art, skilled performance or other factors.
Kindness includes care, compassion and generosity to others and to oneself. Doing favours (altruistic acts) for others – even strangers – such as giving financial support, donating recycled goods to a charity shop, or spending time with a friend-in-need can also be a positive experience for the helper (‘helper’s high’) so it’s a win-win!
Mastery refers to succeeding in a completing a difficult task, not giving up, or learning a new skill. It is linked with optimism and can lead to increased confidence and self-efficacy.
Creativity isn’t just about being artistic, it can also relate to coming up with original or ingenious ideas and concepts that can sometimes change the world.
Zest represents the energy, enthusiasm, excitement and sense of adventure in life. Such ‘spirited’ people are often good to be around as their passion (and optimism) can be infectious.
References & Recommended Reading
- Kaplan, R. & Kaplan, S. (1989). The Experience of nature: A psychological perspective. Cambridge: New York. Cambridge University Press.
- Louv, R. (2005). Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. London: Atlantic Books, Kindle edition. www.atlantic-books.co.uk
- Paul, M. (2004). It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys: The Seven Step Path to Becoming Truly Organised. New York: Penguin Compass.
- Ruben, G. (2011). Balanced Life – Make your bed. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gretchen-rubin/balanced-life—-make- you_b_270899.html
- Selhub, E. & Logan, A. (2012).Your Brain on Nature: The Science of Nature’s Influence on Your Health, Happiness and Vitality. Ontario, Canada: John Wiley & Sons Canada Ltd. Kindle edition.
- Wilson, E. (1984; 2003). Biophilia: The human bond with other species. 12th ed. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Kindle edition.
About the author: Maggie Bevington has many years of experience working in conventional and alternative medicine before adding Positive Psychology (MAPP 2014) to her work at Positive Health Plus. She now designs and delivers Upward Spirals workshops and courses which combine Positive Psychology, mindfulness training and Foundations in Health www.upwardspirals.org.uk
‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’