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Gardens make people happy

The pursuit of happiness is a right promised in the Declaration of Independence. Where are you going to pursue happiness today? I have an idea — happiness can be found in a garden.

Garden does not completely describe the three, large, waist-high raised beds full of herbs and spring vegetables I tend each morning. The gardens of certain full-of-joy friends and neighbors are more traditional, soon to be exploding with stately, full-of-themselves agapanthus and spilling forth beckoning day lilies. My “gardening” is all about red leaf kale and sugar snap peas. I go outside in the backyard each morning, smile at the thriving produce and water the nearby potted geraniums. I pinch off a bit of mint to nibble on and I am always so blooming happy.

Researchers at the University of Arkansas found women gardeners older than 50 have substantially better bone density than those who participated in more typical forms of exercise (jogging, bicycling and aerobics).

I personally think edible gardens are the best kind. And my visiting grandson is always wide-eyed that he can snack on early strawberries without getting permission and help me harvest bib lettuce that ends up on his lunch sandwich. Have you ever tried sunflower seed butter and fresh spinach sandwiches with just a touch of homemade marionberry jam? The joy on the face of a kindergartener (make that kinder-gardener) says it all. Does it get any better?

Yes it does. You may not even need the trowel and protective gloves. Research in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that just looking at a garden could be good for you. Studies at the University of California, Irvine, found that people exposed to arboreal views followed by a walk in a nature preserve experienced both decreased blood pressure and elevated mood — in a matter of minutes. Yet another study completed at Texas A&M found surgical patients in rooms with views of nature recovered faster. A related study used that same approach (garden views) and found particular relevance for patients with gall bladder difficulties (shorter stay, fewer potent analgesics).

I can give personal testimony to the fact that if I go to the dentist and sit in the chair that looks out the window and into a lush oak tree, a root canal is more bearable.

In my recall, Rutgers University has done the most research in this area, with specific attention to older adults. They found that for 80% of aging individuals, plants and flowers had a positive effect on depressive symptoms; 72% of older adults showed an improvement in performance on mental status (memory) tests. I like the way one of the Rutgers researchers summarized all this, “Common sense tells us that flowers make us happy, now science shows not only do flowers make us happier than we know, they have strong positive effects on emotional well-being.”

As you can tell, I’m feeling rather satisfied with my pursuit of happiness. It’s gone well so far this spring. And in the process, I’ve taken to thinking of myself as an optimist by nature.

Sharon Johnson is a retired educator and executive director of Rebuilding Together Rogue Valley. Reach her at sharon@rbtrv.org.