An Incomplete Guide to a Happier, Healthier You
Whether or not we know it, there’s something about our space that inherently affects who we are and how we feel. In other words, what we choose to surround ourselves with has a massive effect on our overall well-being. This is not only relevant for how you keep your home or workspace but it also applies to your general lifestyle choices with regards to being outside, traveling, the people you surround yourself with, etc. There have been plenty of studies showing that a messy/cluttered home or workspace can create stress and inhibit creativity and productivity – our minds tend to mimic the chaos of our environment. The same can be said for when we are outdoors and experiencing nature to the fullest – our minds mimic the disconnection that nature seems to have from our modern lives.
I frequently experience this (chaos of the mind due to environment) if I go to outdoor festivals, block parties, etc. where there are a ton of people and way too much stimulation – I can’t seem to focus on anything, not even a simple conversation. I also experience small doses of this when my laundry has been piling up and I finally take the time to do it and actually put it away when it’s finished (#adulting). There’s something about having a clean, organized space that allows your mind to focus on other things. These days I think this can even be applied to our digital spaces – keeping our media organized, checking emails, etc. I have heard twice now in the past month of people having 5,000+ unread messages in their inbox. It may not feel like it’s causing you stress but it’s always there, lingering – you know you need to take care of it but you don’t because you think there might be some useful information and you need time to go through all of them, blah blah blah – just delete them! Do it, now.
I’ve talked about this in the past – and I’ll likely continue to bring it up because it’s so important to recognize – we are not inherently adaptive to the modern environment we live in, at least not in the most primitive sense of how we evolved as a species. All of these things that are causing us stress – emails, an excess of photos/videos, paperwork piling up, debt, the consumer-driven market that makes us think we need something, therefore, resulting in a cluttered closet, home, etc. – they are foreign problems for our most primitive biological and subsequently psychological adaptations to have. In other words, we weren’t built for this. So how do we adapt? How can we learn to live in an environment where this type of stress is so easily present and sometimes difficult to avoid? We can do it in two simple steps: 1. take care of your sh*t (clean your house, redecorate, de-clutter, delete your emails, start meditating, etc.) and 2. go outside!
Our most powerful weapon as a species is our ability to think (i.e., make conscious decisions, plan ahead, reflect, etc.) – not to mention our highly developed cultures all over the world. These two things combined are a force that we have created over time, outside of our basic biological adaptations, that we use to adapt to any and all environments, and we can continue to use them to our advantage here. I should rephrase the first step and say make the decision to take care of your sh*t – we all have the power to make decisions that will result in positive life change, it’s just a matter of doing it. Make the decision to: not hit the snooze button, create a clean comfortable environment to live/work in, do your laundry, make time for yourself to workout when you have 3 little kids running around, read a book, go for a walk, meditate, clean your house, get off the grid, do the thing, don’t do the thing, etc. Work on listening to yourself and what it is you actually need to thrive.
Sometimes it’s hard to listen to your inner voice telling you to do all of those things that you know will benefit you in the long-run, especially because of the information-dense world we live in. That’s where step number two comes in – get outside!
“The frontal lobe, the part of our brain that’s hyper-engaged in modern life, deactivates a little when you are outside. Alpha waves, which indicate a calm but alert state, grow stronger.”
Our brains were wired to be outside. There’s this thing they do in Japan called shinrin yoku, or “forest bathing” – and no, it’s not actually taking a bath in the forest (but that sounds pretty sweet too). Forest bathing refers to being in an environment where all of your senses are engaged. Essentially, the idea is that our sensory system “evolved in [a] natural world, and when we’re in those spaces our brains become relaxed because [those] are the things that we were designed to look at, hear and smell”. It makes a ton of sense if you think about it – much like how newborn babies are comforted by movements that mimic being in the womb, we are comforted when we’re surrounded by nature – the place where our most primitive adaptations evolved. I’m not telling you that a walk in the forest will solve all of your problems, but it is scientifically proven that nature makes us happy. Essentially, if we allow ourselves more time to disconnect from our modern environments we will be more in tune with that inner voice – more in tune with making decisions that align with our highest, most powerful selves.
So what does all of this mean for you and your life? I can’t tell you what to do, but I will say that just writing this article inspired me. Yesterday I sat down and straight handled some things I had been putting off for a while, and every morning I have been waking up and making an attainable (keyword attainable) to-do list for that day. If you really want to go through all of your 5,000 emails before you delete them, plan to get through 100 of them per day until they are gone (and unsubscribe from mailing lists in the process!). If you want to start meditating – first I’d highly recommend downloading the app Headspace – start with 3 minutes a day, then 5 minutes, then 10, etc. What’s holding you back? What do you want to get done? What do you want to start doing? I want to know – comment below!
I can’t guarantee massive, life-altering shifts from following this (most certainly incomplete) guide to a happier, healthier you. But I can guarantee that if you start small and take little, attainable steps in the right direction – before you know it, you’ll have developed a habit of taking care of your sh*t. This, combined with making an effort to get outside and disconnecting from this crazy, constantly moving, always changing, ever-evolving modern world we live in will most certainly result in at least some sort of positive life change.
Now go delete your emails.
Katie Weed is an anthropologist and philosopher at heart. A freelance writer, brand manager, and social media strategist by day. She’s usually one of three places: outside (most likely with her 9-month-old puppy, Finn), taking photos of said puppy, or at the gym. She resides in South Minneapolis with her boyfriend, Alex.