We are all looking to feel better these days, because we're all in lockdown and we're all worried about the future and we're all trying our best to work with what we have. It's at times like this that keeping a positive frame of mind is essential.
One of the better tools, surprisingly, is to get a few pots and start growing things in them. Many people have taken up gardening during the coronavirus pandemic, and social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram have exploded with videos of people lovingly caring for their little gardens.
A study in Landscape and Urban Planning found that gardening boosts the mood as much as some forms of exercise. Many people, especially women and people with lower income, benefit from tending gardens, even if they're just small plants resting on a fire escape. People who tend gardens feel as good as people who cycle or take regular walks, and the effect is especially pronounced when they grow vegetables they can incorporate into their diet.
From the Washington Post article:
For the study, 370 adults in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area were given a mobile app that recorded their activity during a random one-week period in 2016 and 2017. The app asked every study subject to log the intensity, on a scale of 1 to 7, of emotions experienced during activities in which they participated. The participants tracked two positive emotions (happiness and meaningfulness) and four negative ones (pain, sadness, fatigue and stress).
About 30 percent of the participants said they gardened, spending an average of 1.5 hours a week at it. The researchers conducted a measure of net well-being by subtracting the average recorded intensity of negative emotion experienced during an activity from the average intensity of positive emotions. Then they compared this net well-being measure across various activities.
Gardening was near the top of the activity list in terms of net well-being, statistically indistinguishable from walking, biking, or eating a meal at a restaurant. The only activity scoring significantly higher than gardening, in fact, was “other leisure” — a catchall category that could include anything from watching a movie to socializing with friends.
“Many more people garden than we think, and it appears that it associates with higher levels of happiness similar to walking and biking,” said Princeton’s Anu Ramaswami, one of the authors, in a statement. “In the movement to make cities more livable, gardening might be a big part of improving quality-of-life.”
She added, “These findings suggest that, when choosing future well-being projects to fund, we should pay just as much attention to household gardening.”
While the sample size is admittedly small, this could be a promising sign for people looking for ways to feel better during the pandemic.