A few years ago, I started to discover joy and awe in the small things. I was spending some time in rehab meetings all over London, many in churches. Churches often have churchyards, and in one of them I noticed a flower with pink and yellow petals like battenberg cake. It lit me up.
I started to look outwards, instead of down at my phone. I saw goldfinches, blue tits, sparrows and woodpeckers. Leaves and buds and seeds and roots. Cormorants, water voles, foxes and butterflies. I began to look at how our connection with the rest of nature can affect our mental and emotional health. The evidence blew me away. I found that walking down a tree-lined street or through a green space or urban woodland affects our body and brain in myriad ways. Hearing birdsong can lower stress levels; watching spring light fall through the trees can be psychologically restorative; handling plants in soil may have mental health effects via the microbiome pathway; the smell of earth after rain, known as ‘petrichor’, can affect areas of the brain associated with calmness and relaxation.
It’s not just paying attention to other species that can bring us joy. Take your earphones out on the bus and listen to the lives of others. Watch someone stroking their dog, or kissing the cheeks of a baby, or two men having a big old hug. Look up and see a ballet lesson in an old schoolroom. Puffs of flour as a baker kneads bread. It’s all there, hiding in plain sight. Our humour: the seven noses of Soho; the fridge shop called ‘Sellfridges’. Our love: the pet cemetery in Hyde Park; the different ‘mind the gap’ announcement at Embankment, preserved by staff to comfort the voiceover artist’s widow. Our appreciation of beauty: the street art, the buskers, the canals. There is so much, on every corner. We just have to open our eyes and ears.
‘Losing Eden: Why Our Minds Need the Wild’ by Lucy Jones is published by Penguin and out now.