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These days, the average person is better off in purely material terms, than just about ever before in human history.
New technologies such as the Internet mean that we can stay in touch with those we care about, across vast distances, order our groceries to our homes without having to get off the sofa, and choose from an immense selection of whatever types of food could conceivably take our fancy.
For most people living in the developed world, the threat of war is pretty small and distant, entertainment options are plentiful, and things are just fairly good in general.
And yet, for all that, surveys and polls consistently find that people today are increasingly depressed, anxious, and stressed out – certainly more than they were in their grandparents time.
Clearly, for all the benefits that we enjoy in the modern world, there are more than a few sources of frustration, stress, and anxiety. Increasingly, more and more people seem to lack a fundamental sense of “what” they are living for, to guide them in the more everyday matters of “how” they are living.
With this being the case, it’s clear we could all benefit from certain hobbies and techniques to keep us grounded, in a time when distraction, confusion, and emotional turmoil are apparently rife.
Here are some reasons why gardening can fill that role, and help you to maintain your sanity in today’s world.
Gardening gets you away from the ever-present buzz of high-tech digital devices
Perhaps the first reason why gardening can have such a tremendously positive impact on people’s lives is that it gets them away from the ever-present buzz of high-tech digital devices.
As mentioned earlier, there are some tremendous benefits that come from those high-tech digital devices that are now ubiquitous today, such as the Internet, tablets and smartphones. At the same time, however, researchers report a growing trend in phenomena such as Internet addiction, and find that people who spend more time on social media are more likely to be insecure, depressed, and anxious, rather than to feel “connected.”
Clearly, it’s necessary to strike some balance here. If you are constantly bombarded with the latest articles (inevitably with clickbait headlines, news stories, hit TV series, comment threads, and social media updates, it is no surprise that you might find yourself being heavily distracted, and feeling overwhelmed by the incessant onrush of information at any given moment day or night.
Stop. Breathe. Go out into the garden, and work with the soil for a while.
Gardening gets you away from all the noise and the ever-present buzz that comes with your digital devices of choice. It’s a time to pause, catch your breath, and let your mind to its own thing, without perpetual input from carefully curated content, put forward by other people.
The academic Cal Newport has recently published a book entitled “Digital Minimalism,” in which he argues that remaining perpetually plugged into the vortex of distracting information that comes from high-tech devices, inhibits our ability to do deep and meaningful work, reduces our well-being, and essentially keeps us “addicted” to certain, largely unproductive, modes of behaviour.
A major part of the antidote, he argues, is to spend time engaged in what he terms “high-quality leisure,” which largely means spending time doing things with your hands, and engaging directly with the world around you.
Since Newport is a professor of computer science, it’s unlikely that he is a tech hating Luddite. Instead, he just realises the importance of balance.
Gardening puts you back in the “driver’s seat”, and makes you an autonomous provider in your own life
it’s pretty common these days for people to feel that they are essentially minor characters in the story of their own lives, subject to the whims, decrees, and plans of more sophisticated actors.
After all, the vast majority of us today are detached from such fundamental and basic facets of our survival as hunting or harvesting our own food, constructing our own shelter, and so on. In lieu of these eternal human pastimes, we are now plugged into highly complex and specialised systems, where we are for all intents and purposes “taken care of” by other people, in exchange for money.
But there’s good evidence that for people to feel confident, proud, and fulfilled in their lives, they need to find and nurture a sense of autonomy, and of being “providers”.
Gardening essentially reconnects you with these eternal features of the human quest for survival and thriving, and makes you a “provider” in your own life, once again. When you are researching the best types of organic fertiliser to use, for example, you are deepening your connection to the food system, and are becoming better equipped to provide your own basic needs, as the need arises.
Of course, it’s not very likely that you’re going to become completely self-sufficient as a result of your garden. But that’s not really the point. Even if you just grow a few potatoes, some herbs, and some attractive flowers, you are engaging in the process of becoming a more autonomous person. And that can go a long way towards boosting your sense of well-being.
Gardening gives you the satisfaction of being a creator, not just a consumer
Closely connected to the previous point here – gardening gives you the satisfaction of being a creator, and not just a consumer. This, in turn, can strongly promote feelings of fulfilment, well-being, and self-respect.
Of course, we are all “consumers” to one degree or another. The problem arises when we are only consumers, and do not actively create things of value in our own lives, too.
Unfortunately, this is a surprisingly easy position to end up in these days. You can certainly acquire all your furniture, entertainment goods, and useful appliances, without having to invest any personal creative spark. You can likewise probably make a living at work, without really “making” anything that has intrinsic value to you.
It’s even possible to feed yourself three square meals a day, without ever cooking.
Gardening provides an antidote to this situation. It gives you the satisfaction of being a creator, in a very primal and raw sense. When you are growing your own produce, and seeing your flowers blossom as a result of your work, you’ll realise deep down that you’ve got the capacity to “make things” in a meaningful way.
Gardening gets you out under the sun, breathing in the fresh air, and listening to the sounds of the wind through the trees
In the last few years, there have been a slew of headlines proclaiming that “sitting is the new smoking,” and other hyperbolic words to that effect. But although these headlines may be clickbait-y, they do apparently get at a worrying underlying truth.
Researchers have indeed found that the total amount of time spent sitting down throughout the day is correlated with an increased risk of mortality from all causes, as well as a heightened risk of all sorts of disease, including conditions such as anxiety and depression.
This, at a time when more of us than ever before are spending essentially our entire lives glued to our seats, whether in front of a computer at work or in front of a computer or TV at home.
Gardening provides you an excellent opportunity to actually get out under the sun, breathe in some fresh air, and get some light to moderate exercise. It can help you to become healthier in a direct, physical way. But it can also boost your well-being through re-connecting you to the sound of birds singing, and the wider world around you.