But how often do you stop to think about how this holiday also helps you feel better?
Spending time in and around nature is incredibly beneficial to our health and well-being. It calms us when we are feeling stressed and boosts our mood when we are feeling down. There are now hundreds of scientific studies confirming that spending time in nature can improve how we feel, such as a recent groundbreaking report that found that spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and well-being.
We feel better because nature offers a soothing sensory experience. Listening to birdsong, breathing in fresh air, and walking barefoot on warm sand are just a few examples of how nature helps improve our mood. Viewing natural scenery like flowers, trees, animals, and sunsets leads to more relaxed feelings than looking at images with no nature at all. Colors, patterns, textures, scents, and sounds are how we experience nature through our senses, helping to calm us down by reducing muscle tension, blood pressure, and stress hormones like cortisol.
This idea that connecting to nature helps us feel happier and calmer is called ecohappiness. While Tu B’shevat already focuses on the environment, you can enhance your celebration by adding ecohappiness in the following ways:
Head Outside. Take your Tu B’shevat seder outside this year. With the right clothing and a bit of planning, you can enjoy a lovely family meal with a gorgeous view of the surrounding trees. Plus, there are many benefits of eating outdoors, such as breathing in the invigorating fresh air; listening to restorative nature sounds like birds chirping and leaves blowing in the wind; being exposed to natural sunlight; and catching a glimpse of intriguing wildlife, such as butterflies, lightening bugs, squirrels, rabbits, and more.
Eat Mindfully. During the Tu B’shevat seder, we eat symbolic foods like figs, dates, carob, and almonds in a special order to celebrate the important role trees play in our life. In order to fully immerse ourselves in the experience and appreciate the fruit of the earth, we need to eat mindfully. This means taking our time to savor and truly enjoy what we are eating, and to pay attention to the food through all our senses.
Plant Trees. It is customary in our tradition to plant trees in Israel to honor special events in our lives like a wedding or Bar/Bat Mitzvah. While we should definitely plant trees in Israel during this holiday, it’s also important to plant trees in our own backyard and community. Check with Tree City USA or search for a local group organizing plantings.
Volunteer. Tu B’shevat reminds us how precious our natural resources are. This is the perfect time to volunteer to help safeguard our planet. Plus, both volunteer work and spending time in nature have been scientifically proven to increase happiness and improve mood. Some ideas include beach and park cleanups, working with animals, and helping at a community garden or local farm.
Sing about Nature. Music is a huge part of Judaism. As it turns out, engaging in music – whether that be singing, listening, or creating – provides biological and psychological benefits. It helps us relax by providing a healthy distraction and forcing us to be more mindful. Be sure to include some uplifting nature-themed songs in your Tu B’shevat festivities like Debbie Friedman’s Plant a Tree for Tu B’shevat and If I Were a Tree by Jason Mesches.
Sandi Schwartz is an award-winning environmental author and freelance journalist. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post, USA Today, National Geographic, Library Journal, Chicken Soup for the Soul, mindbodygreen.com, and more. As the founder and director of the Ecohappiness Project, her mission is to inspire and educate families to build a nature habit to feel happier and calmer. Both her parenting book, Finding Ecohappiness: Fun Nature Activities to Help Your Kids Feel Happier and Calmer, and children’s book, Sky’s Search for Ecohappiness, are available now.