3 Ways Connecting to Nature Inspires Joy

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Experiencing joy is about connection, whether it’s to others or the world around us. Noticing the wonders of nature, big and small, is one way to connect and inspire joy.

So what is joy anyway? Isn’t it just another way to say “happy?” According to George Valliant, professor of psychiatry at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, happiness is a state of mind — as in “I am happy.”

Joy on the other hand, surfaces subconsciously and is more warm and fuzzy feeling. Think of how you feel when you see an adorable puppy or watch your child walk for the first time. 

Experiencing joy might seem like something you can’t necessarily plan — yes and no. You can intentionally seek situations and environments where you have a better chance of encountering joy. One of my go-to joy destinations is nature. I find joy in my garden, in the woods and even in the overgrown median between the on-ramp and the highway when I’m stuck in traffic.

Here are three ways nature inspires that special feeling of joy: 

Awe and Wonder​

Nature is all about awe and wonder. Think standing on the beach watching the waves crash on shore, witnessing a pink and orange streaked sunset or, if you’re lucky, a lunar eclipse or meteor shower. Even a simple walk through the woods can inspire awe. 

That sense of being part of something bigger than ourselves is magical. And it’s exactly that connection to the greater world that helps us feel joy. 

Another plus: studies show people who experience awe are more inclined to be generous and kind to those around them — and when we do good, we feel good.

Notice the Little Things

Joy doesn’t require an earth-shattering event. In fact, it often arises from the ordinary. Most of our lives are relatively mundane, but if we pay attention, we can orient ourselves more towards joy.

One of my favorite times of year is late spring, early summer when the neighborhood begins to bloom. I make a point to examine branches and sidewalk spouts when I take walks. Within a few weeks, I notice small buds on the magnolia tree down the street, knowing they’ll soon unfurl into glossy green leaves. 

Waiting on a plant, tree or patch of grass to grow, then glimpsing a full bloom or new leaf as the weeks go by brings on that feeling of joy. As they say, it’s the little things. And nature is full of little things — butterflies, tiny shoots, a bird feather — to notice and delight in. 

Stop and Smell the Roses

Noticing the good is a great way to open yourself up to feeling more joy. But if you really want to take your joy to the next level, practice savoring. You know that saying, “Stop and smell the roses?” Give yourself time to not only acknowledge what’s good, but actually appreciate it. Stay in the moment. Bury your nose in the roses and inhale! Studies show a practice of savoring leads to happiness and increased life satisfaction. 

Getting outside and noticing the beauty of nature is a great way to access joy. If a walk in the woods isn’t accessible or you live in an urban area, look to the sky and try cloud watching. You can also grow your own seeds for an up-close experience.