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Mental Health

How Nature Can Boost Your Happiness: 4 Easy Ways to Reap More Joy

The secrets of nature’s ‘Growth Cycle’ will help you foster self-belief, sharpen your intuition and reach your true potential

From the first precocious crocus breaking through the soil after a long winter to a single baby carrot showing the promise of the bounty to come, spring is bursting with hope and renewal. And in many ways, the growth cycle of plants parallels our own spiritual journey toward greater fulfillment, says life coach Dena Jansen, author of Soul Farmer: Sowing Seeds of Change to Reap an Inspired Life. “We all have this beautiful seed that was planted in us, which I believe is the soul, and just like a seed, our soul needs to grow.” How can nature boost your happiness? Read on for the inspiring advice that can bring you more joy.

How nature can boost happiness

Jansen’s own path toward self-discovery itself began with a kind of a “seed,” when she asked her husband a seemingly simple question. “I have zero green in my thumbs,” she admits with a laugh. “But my husband is a fourth-generation farmer, and when I asked him to describe the crop cycle, he said, ‘From the farmer’s perspective or the seed’s?’”

His response sparked a lightbulb moment for Jansen. “I realized that growth truly is all about perspective. We have a mind and a spirit, and if we can see things in a new way, we can build trust between these two aspects of ourselves — that is the Growth Cycle,” she says, explaining this literal and metaphorical process is central to both nature and hu man nature, and is comprised of four phases she calls: Shifting Soil, Breaking Through, Pacing Pursuit and Rooting Trust.

Simply discovering how to tap all four stages of life will help you help you bring new meaning to yours, especially when you’re facing a crossroads. “In times of change or transition, we need a ‘growth toolkit’ to help us discover more about our strengths, silence self-doubt and listen to our intuition,” confirms Jansen. Keep reading to learn how nature’s own blueprint for seedling success will help you reach your highest potential.

Related: 8 Proven Ways to Unleash the Power of Hopefulness and Spark More Joy

1. Embrace change by ‘shifting soil’

The first phase of life for the humble seed might best be described as, well, a struggle. “It’s all about friction, as the plant tries to put down roots while also pushing up toward the sun,” explains Jansen. This striving toward two polar extremes causes the soil to shift and even crumble, an apt reflection of the stress we experience when we’re on the cusp of change. “Such discomfort is what I call the ‘rub,’ the tension we want to grow through but aren’t always sure where to begin.”

Just as a seed is caught between two worlds — putting down an anchor in the soil while reaching toward the balm of the sun — so do we grapple with two extremes when we’re on the verge of a transition: the push and pull between logic and intuition. While our rational mind tries to protect us by ticking off all the reasons we shouldn’t take a risk, it’s our emotional side that often holds hidden keys to our next steps.

Related: Experts Share 4 Proven Ways to Embrace Your Authentic Self and Unleash Joy

Woman potting plants in garden

“When life gets scary or daunting, we tend to shut down, but simply choosing curiosity over certainty, will help us explore the ‘rub’ or discomfort we’re going through,” encourages Jansen. “Ask yourself what your ‘shifting soil’ feels like: Are your frustrated, confused, quick to anger?” Tuning into these emotional signals may hint that you’ve been longing for change, but something has been holding you back. This seed of awareness will help you focus on what you truly want in life.

“Listen to that little voice whispering, ‘I would love to try X’ or ‘I wish I could do Y,’ and give yourself permission to explore your options.” For Jansen, that meant acknowledging her inner voice warning her that it wasn’t the right time to chase an entrepreneurial goal.

“Instead of pushing it down, I told myself, ‘I hear you.’ But what other possibilities can I look into? This openness led her to ask herself, “What if it is the right time?” Sometimes the simplest of questions have the most profound impact on our lives. Once you tap into your curiosity and intuition, the shifting soil beneath your feet will transform into the terra firma on which dreams are built.

2. Overcome doubt by ‘breaking through’

We’ve all seen those time-lapse videos of a seed bursting through the soil like a green rocket ship — and if we’re being honest, we’ve all been a little green with envy watching that transformative moment. Thankfully, we can all celebrate a similar breakthrough simply by taking what Jansen calls “hope-fueled actions,” small changes rooted in the confidence that we can overcome challenges.

Related: 4 Easy Mind Tricks That Can Help You Perk Up and Let Go of Stress Fast

Woman smelling pink flower and smiling

Like the seedling exposed to the harsh elements for the first time, so must we weather a few obstacles in the name of growth. “This stage takes a bit of vulnerability and emotional exposure as we take an honest look at our goals,” says Jansen, who advises focusing on one discrete step you can take to move yourself forward. “If you want to climb the job ladder, for example, that may mean asking for a meeting or letting higher-ups know what your vision looks like.”

3. Avoid burnout by ‘pacing pursuit’

While “Breaking Through” may look like nature’s version of individualism, growth often is a team sport, requiring everything from soil to water to sunshine. It makes sense, therefore, that our own personal journey is also a collective effort.

“You might consider sharing your goals with people who’ve earned your trust and asking for their advice,” says Jansen, revealing that this is also the time to allow yourself to dream big and think positively. “When we’re trying something new, we tend to jump to the worse-case scenario, but it’s so important to imagine possibilities.” In other words, this phase of the growth cycle, is as much about freeing ourselves of our own inner doubt as it is about standing up to outside criticism.

Woman smiling in garden
Thomas Barwick/Getty

After breaking through the soil, plants crave sun and water, but if they get too much, too quickly, their stems can shoot up without enough support, and risk breaking in the wind, says Jansen, explaining that this is why saplings naturally pace themselves — so they don’t suffer the horticultural equivalent of burnout.

“When you’re making a change for the better, society screams at us, ‘Go as fast as possible!’ she observes. But since you’re so emotionally exposed during this time, remind yourself that you can pause and look back to see if you’re on the right path and assess if you want to make any adjustments,” she says.

Sometimes giving yourself this time and space is more figurative, like savoring a moment of reflection, while other times it’s more literal: “I take laps around my house to give myself some emotional distance when I need it,” notes Jansen, adding that she even has a picture of a sloth in her office to remind herself of the merits of the “slow and steady” approach. Whether you take deep breaths or recharge in nature, giving yourself the grace to reflect on your progress will ensure you not only grow but flourish.

4. Build faith in yourself by ‘rooting trust’

From the delicate daffodil to the rugged potato to the towering oak, every plant, large and small, depends on a strong root system to give it the ballast it needs to flourish. The same can be said about us, of course. “This phase of the growth cycle means cultivating your internal landscape of ‘roots’ — your confidence and faith in yourself — which tethers you to the belief that you are the best guide for your own growth.”

To nurture this inner strength, remind yourself of a simple yet all-too elusive truth: “You can trust yourself to choose the life you want — try and try again by giving yourself opportunities to bet on yourself,” she encourages, adding that the key to an inspired life lies in three words: rest, reflect and reaffirm.

Woman meditating in rose garden, nature and happiness

Allowing yourself the time and space to relax will help soothe your stress and lift your spirits. Then, reflect on the fact that, yes, you do matter. “Ask yourself, ‘Am I showing up and trying? And If I’m trying, what am I learning? This awareness will help you reaffirm your next steps and prioritize yourself on your growth journey,” she says. “Listen to your voice and ask for help when you need it.”

After all, we experience the most fulfilling growth when we both rely on our ourselves and lean on others. This combination creates “a tapestry of roots, that holds us where we want to be held — and lets us meet our true potential.”

Read on for more about mental well-being:

How To Get Out Of Your Own Way: Psychologists Share The Two Words That Transform Self-Sabotage into Success

Top Relationship Pros Reveal the 7 Keys to Deeper, Happier Friendships

Experts Share 6 Ways to Outsmart Fake People — and Trigger a ‘Ripple Effect of Real’

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