Put Down the Pills, Pick Up a Shovel — Studies Show Gardening Makes You Happier and Smarter

Written by on May 10, 2016 in Conscious Living, Thrive with 25 Comments

Little girl with dirty hands

By Justin Gardner | Activist Post

“The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.” – Alfred Austin

Gardeners have known for centuries that their hobby gives them joy and peace. In today’s fast-paced world, gardening has become a form of stress therapy for many. There is even an organization called the American Horticultural Therapy Association, which is “committed to promoting and developing the practice of horticultural therapy as a unique and dynamic human service modality.”

The first Saturday of May is World Naked Gardening Day, a growing annual tradition that represents the ultimate act of getting in touch with nature. Even if you remain clothed, there is a uniquely good feeling about interacting with plants and the soil.

Related Article: Ever Notice That Gardening Makes You Happy? Here’s The Science On Why

As with so many things, science introduces us to the physical wonders behind what we already know on a subliminal level. There are two interesting pieces of research that give credence to the feeling that our bodies and souls are better off from gardening.


Researchers reported in the journal Neuroscience that contact with a harmless soil bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae triggers the release of serotonin in the brain. This type of serotonin acts on several different pathways, including mood and learning.  Lack of serotonin in the brains is related to depression.

“These studies help us understand how the body communicates with the brain and why a healthy immune system is important for maintaining mental health,” said lead author Dr. Chris Lowry. “They also leave us wondering if we shouldn’t all be spending more time playing in the dirt.”

Basically, the things we do as gardeners—working the soil, planting, mulching, and so forth—can really contribute to happiness. We ingest the bacteria by breathing or through broken skin. The simple act of children playing outside in the grass and dirt can be a natural way for them to reduce anxiety.

In addition to increasing happiness and reducing anxiety, serotonin has positive effects on memory and learning. Research presented at the American Society for Microbiology shows that feeding live M. vaccae bacteria to mice significantly improved their ability to navigate mazes, due to the fact that the bacteria triggers the release of brain serotonin.

“This research suggests that M. vaccae may play a role in anxiety and learning in mammals,” said researcher Dorothy Matthews. “It is interesting to speculate that creating learning environments in schools that include time in the outdoors where M. vaccae is present may decrease anxiety and improve the ability to learn new tasks.”

Have you noticed that you feel really happy when picking those ripe vegetables, especially that first tomato of the season? It turns out that harvesting fruits and vegetables triggers the release of dopamine in the brain. The speculation is that this evolved over 200,000 years of humans harvesting food as hunter-gatherers. Dopamine is strongly correlated with reward-motivated behavior.

Related Article: Meet the Scientists Whose Garden Unlocked the Secret To Good Health

So there we have it—two physical reasons why people can be happier and smarter through gardening. Being a gardener myself, I have several other hypotheses that may contribute to this body of research.  These include, but are not limited to: the myriad of colors in plants and animals, trees swaying in the wind, birds singing, squirrels chattering, lady beetles, and fresh air.  Perhaps one day we’ll have scientific explanations for all this, but in the meantime we can take comfort in that innate feeling we know is there.

Image Credit

Justin Gardner writes for TheFreeThoughtProject.com, where this article first appeared.

Read more great articles at Activist Post.

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  1. 10208247377689731@facebook.com' Edith Ayala says:

    My first job was making a small landscape, also taught me the value of work. 😉

  2. 272715603075913@facebook.com' Đỗ Miinh Thu says:

    Conscious Life News god luck fans of Conscious Life News. , are you intelligent? join quiz now…? click here –> #wwwhplaycomv05

    The oceans are becoming more and more poisonous and toxic, and it will get worse as long as humans remain greedy and power hungry. Death to the human Tks for: Researchers reported in the journal Neuroscience that contact with a harmless soil bacteria called MNews, Articles, and Information for Conscious Living on Planet Earth

  3. 10156877788260052@facebook.com' Jay Reinhardt says:

    Just being in nature makes you happier and smarter. Instead we are all slaves to the banks and technology

    • jeannedeward@gmail.com' Jeanne deWard says:

      I hate gardening. I grew up on a farm, and would never EVER go back. I don’t think doing something I hate will make me happy. Gardening is a great hobby for some, not for others. One sixe never fits all.

  4. 510019222483287@facebook.com' Ni Gomes says:

    I love gardening.

  5. 10203306522342730@facebook.com' Sharon Curless Potts says:

    In my own back yard, we have a raised beds garden (possibly more) and my entire landscape around my house has bushes and flower and we have lots of trees. I love my yard, it’s the best part of our home besides our children, grandchildren and animals.

  6. 10208360306187425@facebook.com' Deana Ash says:

    Kayla Ash

  7. 1773074809594754@facebook.com' Amanda Escalante says:

    I have a porch garden. Local wildlife will consume the entire garden, if I actually put them down in the ground. No complaints, though. I think I’ll plant some edible junipers, and perhaps some fruit/nut trees on the ground. It’s my first year of having a sizable garden, and I’ve already noticed how relaxing and calming it is, to tend to my plants.

  8. 10153404764432101@facebook.com' Lacey Jaye Davis says:

    Robin Maddox

  9. 10207225812348564@facebook.com' Judy Compton says:

    Deana Ash, yesterday!

  10. 10206639196394953@facebook.com' Beverley Jayne Callon says:

    Leona Charissa Callon see it works

  11. 10206961087839955@facebook.com' Cara Riley says:

    I LOATHE gardening. It doesn’t do anything positive for me at all. I do it because I need the end product (flowers, greenery etc. ), but I hate the process :/

  12. 10206771448273576@facebook.com' Trish Begg says:

    Not me, I hate gardening, with a passion I might add.

  13. 1724880791128969@facebook.com' Cheryl Fontaine says:

    Amen to that…known it since I was ten.

  14. 1155443264507884@facebook.com' Michael Kane says:

    Growing a garden is equal to printing money.

  15. 1721626141448091@facebook.com' Julia Dotto says:

    Matthew Dotto

  16. Almamyjobe@yahoo.com' Almamy jobe says:

    gardening is part and parcel of eradication of poverty and hunger. I really love gardening. is an easy way to gain some thing from it with good living and good health.

  17. 1667214156872548@facebook.com' Linda Hand says:

    Yes. It. Is. True

  18. 140422426320269@facebook.com' Sara Haas says:

    Gardening and prozac make me very happy.

  19. 1155057677845829@facebook.com' Kien Vo Chi says:

    Trang Nguyễn Thùy

  20. 1201849103161925@facebook.com' Bo Patel says:

    Marquita De La Cruz hmmm maybe you need to mud wrestle??

  21. 1785231428372723@facebook.com' Elle Tess Bibiluridze says:

    gardening has always been a therapeutic tool.

  22. 10204660839600016@facebook.com' Donna Rothstein says:

    Delilah suggests doing the same thing.

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