Want to be happy? Make friends with plants.

I walk over to my office window. My house plants greet me. I say hello to each of them. I look over their leaves. I visually check the moisture level of the soil and add water where necessary. I love them. I pay very close attention to one of them, a small maple tree I found in my front overgrown flower garden in Black Mountain as I was cleaning it out last spring. It would have never flourished in that spot so I pulled it up and planted it in a small pot. I’ve been carrying it around for almost a year now. It’s just getting ready to shoot out some new leaves for spring, and this is very exciting to me, as I almost killed it in an overheated window at my office in Rhode Island during my short stay there.

This is my routine nearly every day when I get up for work. Those plants really do make me happy. They are living things, each with it’s own character. These plants give me something beautiful to turn in my chair and look at whenever I’m pondering the solution to an IT problem or a I need to take a mental break. I sometimes look to them for inspiration when I’m working on a story. They make me smile.

The natural anti-depressant

I recently found an article floating around the web indicating that plants, and tending to them, actually do a lot more than the credit they're given. Working with plants outdoors, and the soil in particular, is especially beneficial for mental health, stress reduction, and happiness. A specific type of bacteria,Mycobacterium vaccae, found in soil increases the production of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin production is key to happiness. The effects of coming in contact with this bacteria while gardening were found to produce the same results as anti-depressants such as prozac. Serotonin also strengthens brain function and is found to increase learning capacity. House plants are also linked to decreasing stress and anxiety, especially in the workplace and at school. 

Plants are the champions of Small Acts, without even having to try

It doesn’t stop there. House plants actually have a positive impact on your health and improve overall wellbeing. It’s pretty common knowledge that plants absorb C02 and turn it into oxygen, but they also clean the air of other indoor pollutants. NASA conducted very thorough research about the topic and concluded that “both plant leaves and roots are utilized in removing trace levels of toxic vapors from inside tightly sealed buildings. Low levels of chemicals such as carbon monoxide and formaldehyde can be removed from indoor environments by plant leaves alone.” Some of our polluted outdoor air comes inside with us, not to mention all the Volatile Organic Compounds, found in many household products, polluting our indoor air. A few houseplants are a great remedy to this health hazard.

Stay focused

Plants improve concentration and memory. They provide a calming effect while working that helps improve accuracy and focus, which allows for higher quality results. A study found that being around plants or nature while performing a task can “increase memory retention up to twenty percent.” I strongly believe that the natural beauty and better air quality that my plants provide helps me tremendously as a “telecommuting” employee.

Healing

We often see plants and flowers in hospital rooms, but they really do provide added benefits aside from a nice aesthetic touch. Plants inside or visible outside the hospital room were proven to decrease the time it takes for patients to heal. Horticulture therapy, where patients are tasked with taking care of plants, has proven to be effective in the rehabilitation of patients following brain injuries and other conditions.

Improve your relationships

I find this one to be one of the most profound reasons to adopt some houseplants or get outside and do some gardening. People that spend extended time around plants were found to have stronger relationships with others and are more likely to be willing to help others. Interacting with and caring for plants increases our aptitude for compassion and empathy. I believe our world needs more empathy, or, the ability to understand how others feel. Maybe then, there would be a little less judgement, and a little more acceptance. It is especially important to teach these skills to children, as their behavior and actions define the future. Caring for plants helps kids understand the fragility of life and external environments, but event as adults, we could all stand to cultivate a little more compassion and appreciation for our planet.

Return on investment


The great thing is that plants are relatively inexpensive, especially compared to the benefits. Investing in a few for your window sill is a Small Act worth your time and money.

This article was produced as a Small Act feature by Small Acts Count