Get thee to a nursery!

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A plant nursery, that is.

The restorative benefits of nature are no secret. I experienced them firsthand a few weekends ago on a hike along Stony Brook in beautiful Harriman State Park. Here are two lovely theories that might explain why we crush so hard on nature: attention restoration and stress recovery.

Attention restoration
Many of modern life’s daily activities (commuting, sending emails, crunching numbers, etc) demand a type of mental effort (directed attention) that is controlled, tiring and limited. On the other hand, communing with nature stimulates our undirected attention system, which is automatic and soft and uses the more primitive parts of our brains.

Think about a visit to the park. You see grass, then you notice how beautiful that tree’s bark is, a bird sings, now the cloud looks like a dolphin, you smell a nearby campfire. While we’re lost in fascination with nature, the higher cognitive functions associated with direct attention have time to rest and repair, and we feel refreshed.

Stress recovery
Evolutionary psychologist EO Wilson believes human beings’ “ubiquitous fondness for nature” is written in our DNA. For millions of years, our ancestors depended on nature (water, plants) for sustenance and survival. As a result, they passed down to us the basic human need for contact with nature. When this need is met, the body receives a signal that it’s safe to rest and relax, and all is well.

Adopt a plant
You don't have to go far to harvest the benefits of nature and our wiring. Houseplants also lower stress, help us relax, and contribute to your overall sense of well-being. In fact, I'm in a loving relationship with a quirky Yucca plant named Doris.

Even NASA loves Doris and her Plantae brothers and sisters. In the 1980s, while researching ways to clean the air in space stations, they confirmed that houseplants help purify indoor air on Earth too. To learn more, check out The NASA Guide to Air-Filtering Plants.