This past weekend, I went hiking in the Santa Monica mountains. It has rained more than usual in LA this year, so it was exceptionally beautiful. The stark contrast of the bright yellow and vividly purple wildflowers against the black of the still-charred trees, burnt from the wildfires of 2018, had its own kind of riveting beauty.
On the drive home, in that post-hike glow where your muscles are tired from just the right amount of exertion, I had one of those moments where you're satisfied with your life for no particular reason.
Except that new research suggests that it was precisely because of the hike that I felt that way.
Yes, a new study published in Nature Scientific Reports shows that people who spend two hours or more outdoors are 20 percent more likely to report being satisfied with their lives.
In other words, spending 15-20 minutes a day outside (or in larger chunks of time, like a two-hour hike) makes you significantly happier.
And make no mistake--a 20 percent jump is significant. It's the same as the increase in satisfaction you see from doing regular weekly exercise, or from living in a wealthier neighborhood.
And it's very doable.
The study doesn't say you need to spend six or more hours outdoors--it's just two hours a week or more. That's just one long walk on the beach on a Saturday, plus a few outdoor lunches during the week.
The study, forthrightly titled "Spending at least 120?minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing," is a good reminder that nature itself is restorative. You don't need to do anything other than get outside, and you'll be happier. It really is that simple.
You'd think that in our busy modern lives, we would have figured this out by now. But consider that this past weekend, I could have done any number of other things. I could've gotten coffee with a friend (indoors). I could have gone to a movie (indoors). I could have grabbed brunch with friends (indoors) and then gone to an art opening (indoors).
We don't even notice how much time we spend inside, but research indicates that Americans spend a whopping 87 percent of their time indoors on average, and an additional 6 percent in an enclosed vehicle. That means 93 percent of your time is spent in either a building or a car.
The simple fix? If you tend to go to work at an office, then come home in your car (or on a train), then go inside and watch Netflix, consider switching up your routine just a little. Add in even just a ten-minute walk around your neighborhood (if it has trees). And on the weekends, do even just one hour outside.
The study showed that it doesn't matter whether you're going to a park, a beach, or any other green space--it all works.
You can also experiment with doing walking meetings, especially if there are trees or other outdoor spaces near your office. Even if you're getting outside with someone for just 25 minutes, it will give you (and them) a boost.
Especially if you live in a city, it does take a certain amount of determination and intention to make the time to get outside.
And it's well worth it.