Feeling Blue? Consider the Beauty of Nature.

One common happiness challenge is: How do you give yourself a boost when you’re feeling blue? Or when you’re past the point of feeling blue, and are feeling deeply unhappy?

One refuge is to consider the beauty of nature.

Nature is impersonal, awe-inspiring, elegant, eternal. It’s geometrically perfect.  It’s tiny and gigantic. You can travel far to be in a beautiful natural setting, or you can observe it in your backyard–or, in my case, in the trees lining New York City sidewalks, or in the clouds above skyscrapers.

A few nights ago, my eight-year-old daughter burst into my office. She was very excited to show me a video, Pendulum Waves, which shows extraordinary patterns created by the simple pendulum.

Watching the video, I was struck, for the millionth time, by the beauty of nature. I often remind myself of one of my favorite quotations, from Boethius, “Contemplate the extent and stability of the heavens, and then at last cease to admire worthless things.” Or I remind myself to “Consider the elephant“–wonder why? Because of this passage from Eugene Delacroix’s fascinating Journal.

Do you find that when you’re caught in the troubles of your own experience–whether those are grave problems,  or petty annoyances–that contemplating nature is helpful?

The extent and stability of the heavens! In a shell, in an elephant, in the clouds, in a rock formation, in the action of a pendulum.

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  • shenson

    I couldn’t agree more!

  • peninith1

    I’ve been striving for 10,000 steps a day, by walking four times around my neighborhood circle. Lately, I’ve been looking out for one interesting or beautiful thing, taking a photo with my cell phone on each walk, and posting it afterwards on facebook. If you work on noticing, there is certainly a whole lot to see. Some days I feel compelled to take several pictures. Today I got a picture of leaves and seeds on the sidewalk. So pretty for fall.

    • gretchenrubin

      Such a great exercise!

  • Kim in Minnesota

    Sort of a Happiness Project two-for-one: I have been consciously noticing nature this Fall and remembering past leaf-peeping trips. It brightens my day to notice the bright gold or deep scarlet of leaves on trees, or as they swirl to the ground in my yard, and on the streets – especially when I can recapture happy memories of previous Fall vacations.

  • Thomas

    Is the beauty of the nature just a excuse for us to avoid face the problems? Now, I think that i’m suffering a unhappy period.

    • peninith1

      Even in times of big and overwhelming problems, it is not possible to actually DO things about the problems 24 hours a day. If, when you are not actually engaged in problem solving or problem-addressing activities, you pick up your mind and move your attention away from the problem to the beauty of nature, that can be like air in a stuffy room or water for thirst or rest for exhaustion. Worth trying, I assure you.

  • Erin

    Thanks for this wise reminder, Gretchen. The greatest cure for despair, I think, is wonder, and you’re right, nature is full of it. When I’m stuck navel-gazing and ruminating, a brisk walk often helps pull me out of the funk. Noticing and appreciating the natural world seems to put my human-sized problems into perspective.

    That Pendulum Waves video is fascinating, by the way! I’m reminded of the Edward Bulwer-Lytton quote: “In Life, as in Art, the Beautiful moves in curves.”

  • BKF

    Thanks, Gretchen. The fascinating pendulum video reminded me of prime sequences in nature (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-14305667) and the FIbonacci numbers (http://britton.disted.camosun.bc.ca/fibslide/jbfibslide.htm). Truly, “in all things of nature there is something of the marvellous.” (Aristotle)

    Contemplating nature almost invariably makes me feel better. The beauty of a flower, the relaxing and mysterious sound of the ocean, the majesty of mountains, even running one’s fingers on the gnarled bark of a tree- they all somehow remind me to be present in the moment and pull my thoughts away from regrets about what is past or worries about some imagined future….Even just taking a deep breath in the fresh, outside air (maybe not in NYC!) is so invigorating.

  • Elizabeth

    I drive a couple of miles, most days every week just so I can walk my dogs in “nature” as opposed to on the sidewalks around my house. Not that there isn’t “nature” in my neighborhood, but I find that the more nature there is, the better I feel! And the fact that my dogs get to run around off leash doesn’t hurt! The year that my mom was dying I would walk there, crying sometimes, but still felt better when I got back in my car.

  • Lynnel

    Wow! I want earrings in a pendulum! I have to totally agree with this advice. My husband has been down lately, and nothing brings him back like a beach, waterfall, or fishing on the river. Something about the green and the water is energizing, relaxing, and mood elevating. I try to take 5-10 minute sun breaks myself, and just looking up at the sky with yellow leaved branches juxtaposed to the blue arouses wonder.

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