Exposure to Green Space has been shown to;
- Increase happiness
- Increase confidence
- Increase motivation
- Decrease stress
- And be an excellent method for instilling all of these qualities in children
Discover the importance of Green Space and how Resident Counselor Maddie Vann has incorporated green space practice into her life and with her family.
Hiking and Happiness
By: Maddie Vann, M.Ed., NCC, RYT200
We discovered a new favorite hike this past weekend – the Rose River Loop Trail in the Shendandoah National Park. The trail is moderately challenging, with plenty of areas where you have to clamber up and down rocks. But it also descends through thick forest to the Rose River. There are plenty of waterfalls large and small to see along the way.
We were not able to spend as much time as we would have wanted along the river, because we didn’t bring towels and swimsuits. We also had our dog with us, and a couple with a dog was behind us, so we felt some pressure to continue on. Unfortunately, our dog is a vigorous and sonorous barker, and he would simply have barked the whole way if they were in front.
So, guess what? A three-hour hike in the mountains has been shown to make people happier than staying home. This is just one benefit of “green time” – and it’s no surprise to someone like me, who is definitely happier on a hike! That data comes from a May 2017 PLoS One article published by a team from Austria (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28520774). They compared people who hiked for three hours with indoor treadmill activity or sedentary activity, and found that hiking generally improved mood best. Their conclusion – hikes should be on the prescription pad! My only thought is that if the hike took place with a group, or even a few other people, there’s the social factor as well, to consider – we know people are happier when they are hanging out with like-minded friends. I don’t know if one would be happier hiking solo. I know I prefer company! I was hiking with my husband and my two elementary school age boys, as well as the dog.
Here are a couple of tips for hiking with children:
(1) make sure you have lots of snacks and water, and the patience to stop frequently for snacks and water.
(2) let go of any fantasy that your children will enjoy the whole thing. Sometimes they will, and sometimes they fuss loudly.
(3) take swimming gear and clean clothes, especially if you’ll be around waterfalls. And be prepared for the hassle of having to change the kids in and out of said clothes or swim gear.
(4) take bug spray
(5) give everyone a whistle. We did have a child wander off the path and get turned around. However, he panicked fast and yelled loudly, so we could find him quickly. Another child who panics less quickly might have gone further.
More Benefits of “Green Time”
Being happier due to hiking is only one benefit to “green time” (time spent out of doors in areas with a wide variety of plants and living creatures). When children spend time in green spaces every day, they are more confident, better behaved in class, and able to focus better. We also know that adults get a lot from being outside in green spaces – they are soothed and restored, and their stress levels go down.
As a parent myself, and having worked with a number of families, I get it that this prescription to take more time as a family outside feels like “just one more thing.” But it could be the “just one more thing” that helps your children and your family enjoy life a bit more.
Maddie Vann is currently a Licensed Resident in Counseling practicing in Williamsburg, Va. where she is active in the community promoting mental health awareness and advocating for under-served populations. At White Cloud Therapeutic Services she focuses on family therapy, group therapy, and individual counseling.