A few years ago I was going through a depression. Then I found gardening.
I grew up on a farm, so I wasn’t new to hard work, but I quickly realized that there was something different about gardening. Something naturally uplifting and life affirming.
I worked with wonderful people, digging ponds and planting flowers. I watched perennials grow and annuals bloom. In the fall I sadly watched everything die back and in the spring I watched it once again come to life.
I worked there for three summers and went from the saddest I’ve ever been to the happiest. Now science can explain why.
Why dirt really is better than Prozac
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While most gardeners can attest to the feeling of wellness you get from playing in the soil, very few can explain what about it makes them feel good.
The answer is Mycobacterium vaccae, a little microbe that lives in the soil. Those little guys have been found to have a similar effect to Prozac on neurons, helping to increase serotonin production, which makes you feel happier and more relaxed. It’s one of Mother Nature’s antidepressants.
Studies of cancer patients have already discovered that the bacterium can increase patients’ quality of life and reduce their stress levels. Similarly, because a lack of serotonin is associated with depression, anxiety, and OCD, the bacterium could help with their treatment and prevention.
Okay, but do you have to eat the dirt, or…?
Luckily, to actually get the benefits of the microbes you don’t have to eat dirt. Instead just gardening in general, planting flowers and digging, should be enough. You inhale the bacteria, you get it on your hands and arms and clothes (pretty much everywhere some days), and if you have any small cuts or scrapes, you will absorb them into your bloodstream.
Some studies have indicated that the mood-boosting effects can last up to three weeks. There are no adverse side-effects, unlike Prozac, and you can’t become chemically dependent.
Even better, studies are now being done on the potential benefits of Mycobacterium for Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and improving cognitive function.
One more reason to start gardening today
Of course, the microbes aren’t the only reason gardening can help boost your mood.
You also get more sun and vitamin D, which has been found to be immensely important to wellbeing. You also get more exercise, which alone has mood-boosting effects and can help you sleep better at night.
But perhaps the most compelling reason to garden is that it makes you appreciate the cycle of life. It makes you feel connected to nature, to something real and beautiful.
Watching something grow from a seed to a beautiful, blooming flower reminds you that there is good in this world. That there’s reason to be hopeful and optimistic and happy. So go get your hands dirty, have a little fun, and feel great.
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