One of the problems with New Year’s resolutions is that most of us who make them aim too high. After at least a week of merry-making, starting with events before Christmas and culminating with New Year’s Day binges of sports and food, we suddenly expect ourselves to turn our lives around. We vow to go to the gym five days a week or switch to a paleo diet. We want to lose fifty or a hundred pounds and get in shape for summer. The reality, however, is that these changes are too drastic for us to be successful. Instead of expecting radical change in an instant, why not focus on smaller changes that can create big differences in our lives?
A resolution that is easy to implement and will have a significant impact on your life is to spend more time in green spaces and natural settings. According to the US Census Bureau, more than 62% of Americans live in cities and the trend is growing. Part of the reality of urban life is that most of us are not spending a lot of time outside or in green spaces; we go from home to transportation to work to other buildings and home again. This is a shame, because spending time in natural areas can have tremendous positive health benefits.
Research on the benefits of spending time in green spaces, especially for those who live in urban areas and may not have innate opportunities to be outside, is extensive. The International Journal of Wellbeing published a study indicating that regularly connecting with nature is a key activity in having a flourishing life. The Journal of Landscape and Urban Planning shared research showing how simply walking in a park can have a significant positive impact on well-being and encouraged the development of more green spaces in urban areas. Frontiers in Psychology published a study that found that spending time in nature or green spaces can help those with a variety of psychological disorders including but not limited to anxiety, depression, and attention deficits. Research in the Alternatives Journal concurs about the mental health benefits of spending time in green spaces and natural settings. That article even goes so far as to suggest that physicians and psychotherapists might do well to prescribe time outdoors for patients suffering from anxiety, depression, and many other mental health disorders. A study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that, “Being outdoors was associated with greater vitality, a relation that was mediated by the presence of natural elements.” There is no scientific dispute; spending time in parks and wild spaces makes us feel better.
What does this mean for New Year’s resolutions? Foremost, it means that we can make substantial improvements in our lives by making small changes. Set yourself up for success by making minor modifications to your lifestyle that you’re willing to stick to. While you might not be likely to go from junk-food-junkie to raw food vegan in one fell swoop, you are likely to be able to keep a commitment to take a walk in the park or eat your lunch under a tree on your break. You probably will take your kids for a bike ride or do a little gardening in the yard. Even these little changes can have a big impact. Then, as you begin to feel better, you can begin to tackle the larger issues you might want to address in your life.
This New Year, make a resolution that you are going to keep. Commit to spending at least twenty minutes a day outdoors in a green space. You might read a book, take a walk, practice tai chi, drink your coffee – whatever activity you choose is fine – just get outside and enjoy the beauty the world has to offer. You’ll feel and be better for it!