Emotional Health

Savoring Summer’s Pleasures Year Round

Summer, then, is often the only time when families are all together in a low-key environment, spending time together in a non-stressful way. The contrast is no longer between eating indoors or outdoors but between night and day (literally– there are families that don’t even see each during daylight hours during the rest of the year). But family time is one of the things that researchers in the field of positive psychology have identified as a key to happy living. Again, it’s not just the sunshine that makes summer special.

And yet, that time outdoors is good for you. The Atlantic Monthly published a report by James Hamblin on the new field of “ecotherapy,” which essentially is exactly what it sounds like: “ nature-based exercises intended to address both mental and physical health.”  I have always felt that walking or running outdoors was “better” somehow, and I have been dismayed at the proliferation of indoor gyms and spas that have become standard in recent years at resorts in beautiful, bucolic and/or exotic resorts. “Science” is now confirming the obvious, according to Hamblin:

“Researchers in the United Kingdom found that when people did physical activities in natural settings instead of “synthetic environments,” they experienced less anger, fatigue, and sadness. A 2015 study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that walking in a park reduced blood flow to a part of the brain that the researchers claimed was typically associated with brooding. And in one of the most famous studies on the topic, patients recovering from gallbladder surgery healed faster and with fewer complications when their room looked out on trees rather than a wall.”

We are naturally more prone to spend time outdoors during the summer months when the weather is good but that does not mean it has to stop when the summer ends. As with vacation from work, relaxation family, and outdoor time may be more challenging during the rest of the year, but not impossible. With all these aspects of healthy summer activities try analyzing the parts that are most valuable to you and spend time thinking about how to arrange “non-summer” simulations. For example, I love going to the beach but I rarely go in the water and don’t tan, so why do I like it so much? I realized, as much as I like the sand and the sound of the water, what I really like most was the several uninterrupted hours of reading. Couldn’t I give myself “permission” to sit around my apartment for three hours reading without the ruse of “going to the beach?” OK, it’s still infinitely better on the beach, but I learned that I don’t have to wait nine months to really get lost in a good book.

Similarly, some people love barbecues because of hamburgers and hotdogs and paper napkins but wouldn’t “let” themselves be so casual indoors. Why not? Fun and casual dining need not be restricted to the summer months. You also can invite people to a barbecue spontaneously without worrying too much about the food. But you can do that in the winter too. Having casual get-togethers are can be less stressful and more fun for the guests, as well as, the hosts. People are happy just to see each other, which is what they do more of during the summer.

Think about the things that makes summer special to you: slowing down, less pressure, time outdoors, being with family, or all of the above. This summer, take notes of the season’s pleasures, and whether it occurs once a week, once a month, or ideally, in some way a little more every day, and find a way to keep summer in your life all year long.

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