Fresh Outlook Foundation

LONELINESS: ‘Planting’ the Seed of Social Inclusion

Fresh Outlook Foundation

Imagine this… an RX from your GP recommends you take two spider plants and call her in the morning!

You visited your doctor complaining of loneliness… of feeling isolated from your grown children and friends who are increasingly frail and less mobile. You’ve lost your appetite and you’re not sleeping well. You expect a prescription or maybe a referral, but instead she talks about the healing powers of plants and how they can help foster happiness while you foster them! Hard to believe?

We know that houseplants increase oxygen levels and purify air. Recent research shows they can also relieve stress, encourage creativity, and boost healing. Hence, why the Cornbrook Medical Practice in Manchester, England is giving patients herbs, vegetables, and potted plants to help relieve anxiety, depression, and loneliness. As the plants mature, patients transfer them to the clinic’s communal garden. The idea is that the patients will then continue with gardening and engage in other social activities.

The clinic reports that, “having something to care for brings so many benefits to people,” especially those who do not have gardens or pets. “The plant is then a reason to come back to the surgery and get involved in all the other activities in our garden and make new friends.” Backed by the city’s health commissioners, this project is the first of its kind in England.

But if you can’t adopt a plant, even a short walk will do!

Research conducted by University of British Columbia (UBC) researcher Holli-Anne Passmore shows that enjoying nature will boost people’s general happiness and well-being.

A PhD psychology student at UBC’s Okanagan campus, Passmore tested 395 people in three groups over a two-week period. One group was asked to document how the nature they encountered in their daily routine made them feel. They photographed objects that caught their attention (e.g., a houseplant, cloud, dandelion growing in a crack in the driveway) and wrote about how they felt in response to each object. The second group tracked their responses to man-made objects, while the third control group did neither.

“The difference in participants’ well-being—their happiness, sense of elevation, and their level of connectedness to other people, not just nature—was significantly higher than participants in the group noticing how human-built objects made them feel and the control group,” says Passmore.

She was “overwhelmed” by the participants’ responses and the impact nearby nature had on their personal well-being. “This wasn’t about spending hours outdoors or going for long walks in the wilderness,” she says. “This is about the tree at a bus stop in the middle of a city and the positive effect that one tree can have on people.”

Passmore’s research, recently published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Joanne de Vries is a communications professional who provides public education and consultation services to businesses, non-profits, and different levels of government. She is one of the principals of Alliance Communications, and the Founder and CEO of the Fresh Outlook Foundation.

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