Hiking and Happiness

I didn’t think that I would get any sort of a vacation this year, but it turns out that we are going to squeeze in a quick last minute trip to Yosemite and Kings Canyon. I plan to do some hiking while I’m there and, evidently, I’m going to feel happier for it.

HikingNo big surprise, a new study shows that walking or hiking in nature can bring us inner peace, joy, and happiness.

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with depression.

“These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world,” said co-author Gretchen Daily, the Bing Professor in Environmental Science and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

More than half of the world’s population lives in urban settings and that is forecast to jump to a whopping 70 percent within a few decades. It’s no coincidence that just as urbanization and disconnection from nature have grown dramatically, so have mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. In fact, those who live in the city have a 20 percent higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40 percent higher risk of mood disorders as compared to people in rural areas. People born and raised in cities are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia.

Me in the middle with my son (left) and daughter-in-law (right) hiking in Ladder Canyon.

Me in the middle with my son (left) and daughter-in-law (right) hiking in Ladder Canyon.

Yikes! However, if you happen to live in a city, don’t feel discouraged. A simple stroll in Central Park or any nearby hiking area will help.  As I wrote previously in my blog, Finding Serenity in Nature, studies show that even a limited dose of nature like a short walk or even looking outside through a window is good for us. Although I live in the desert – nowhere near a forest – my husband and I have had fun exploring some of the local nature trails. This last winter we hiked the Ladder Canyon Trail/Painted Canyon in Mecca.

It’s worth the effort. Nature can improve your mental state, lower blood pressure, reduce cortisol levels (the stress hormone), and increase your energy. The great outdoors can even provide a surge of creative energy. That’s why you’ll often see people in scenic spots with their easels or writing poems.

People have long known that natural environments are good for us. Clear back in 1857, S.H. Hammond wrote in the book, Wild Northern Scenes; Sporting Adventures with the Rifle and the Rod:

“Hurrah! hurrah! We are in the country, the glorious country! Outside of the thronged streets…away from the heated atmosphere of the city, loaded with the smoke and dust, and gasses of furnaces, and the ten thousand manufacturies of villainous smells. We are beyond even the meadows and green fields. We are here alone with nature, surrounded by old primeval things. Tall forest trees, mountain and valley are on the right hand and on the left. Before us, stretching away for miles, is a beautiful lake, its waters calm and placid, giving back the bright heavens, the old woods, the fleecy clouds that drift across the sky, from away down in its quiet depths.”

Centuries later, don’t you feel some of those same emotions when you’re hiking in the forest or camping under the stars? You can feel all that negativity, anxiety, and stress just drain away.

I realize that not everyone can take a week-long vacation to camp in the woods and explore nature trails. Maybe it’s not financially possible or you have physical limitations that prevent you from hiking. However, everyone can insert a little nature into their lives.

If you need a few ideas, here are a few simple and easy ways to incorporate nature into your life as shared in the blog I mentioned above:

BirdFeederStargaze and watch the heavens light up.

Spread a blanket over the grass and take normal activities such as reading, eating a meal, or simply discussing how your day went with hubby outdoors.

Build or buy a bird feeder or a fountain and watch the birds splash, play, and frolic.

Visit a Farmer’s Market.

Watch a sunrise or sunset.

Or if you are healthy and able, take it from nature writers and explorers like John Muir who have known this secret for centuries.

Go take a hike! Of course, I mean that in the nicest way possible!

Images courtesy of marcolm and Paul Brentnall at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.



Julie A. Gorges is the author of two young adult novels, Just Call Me Goody Two Shoes and Time to Cast Away and co-author of Residential Steel Design and Construction published by McGraw Hill. In addition, hundreds of her articles and short stories have been published in national and regional magazines, and she received three journalism awards from the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association while working as a newspaper reporter. Julie currently lives in southern California with her husband, Scott, and has two grown children and three grandchildren.

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17 Responses

  1. Jeanne says:

    This is so true. When I’m in nature I find that I’m fully present in taking in my surroundings and I feel great afterwards!

  2. Susan says:

    Yes! Must be why I’m addicted. Great article!

    • juliegorges says:

      Thanks Susie! I’m a bit addicted too. We did plenty of hiking on our trip to Sequoia and Yosemite. It was wonderful. Back home again and now the trick will be finding the time. However, I think hiking is one of those things that should be the top of everyone’s list of things to do.

  3. Oh I LOVE hiking and we’ve hiked all over Maui – including six trips through Haleakala Crater! So I couldn’t agree more with the study. Haven’t done much hiking in recent months but getting outside for a walk is still my #1 way to relax and I do it every chance I get – of course when you live on Maui no matter where you hike the scenery is beautiful!

  4. Linda Ursin says:

    Nature is amazing 🙂 Great ideas on how to incorporate nature into your life

  5. One of the best things about my new move is that I’ll be right on the Bay Trail with a view of the Golden Gate. An improvement, for sure, from gritty west Oakland.

    Thanks, lovely article!


  6. Suzie Cheel says:

    Being in Nature always brings me back to peace and as I start each day in nature I raise my vibes and feel so blessed. Would love to be going to Yosemite with you- I have pics of my mum there back in 1940s xx

    • juliegorges says:

      We visited there with my family twice while growing up and I have the best memories. Also went when my firstborn was about 2 years old, so it had been 30+ years since I visited Yosemite. Which is a shame because it is only a day’s drive from where I live. I somehow forgot how breathtakingly beautiful the place is – hopefully I won’t wait as long to go again!

  7. My morning walks in nature are what nourish my soul everyday! I feel lost when I’m not able to go in nature for just one day…so taking a hike…oh I will definitely be doing that 😉
    There is SO much wonder in nature…I can literally get lost in it.
    Thank you for this beautiful reminder.
    Much Love,

  8. Cat Michaels says:

    Julie, walking is my sanity. After reading the facts you presented, I now understand why. Walk on!

  9. Cat Michaels says:

    Julie, walking is my sanity, and after reading the facts you presented, I now understand why. Walk on!

  1. April 7, 2016

    […] pack up some water and snacks, and go discover the great outdoors. As I pointed out in my blog, Hiking and Happiness, no big surprise, a new study shows that walking or hiking in nature can bring us inner peace, […]

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