Do we need nature to be happy?

In Nick Baylis’ Rough Guide to Happiness the last part of the chapter “Our environment” is dedicated to nature. “Our prehistoric ancestors were wild animals, but so-called civilization has domesticated us through its urban living and high-tech life. We put our well-being at peril if we discount the role of our underlying instincts. We are animal-beings first and foremost – our human-ness is only a specific breed of this. Let’s try to appreciate, honour and fulfil our animal nature.
He later adds: “Human well-being needn’t cost the Earth. On the contrary, our fortunes are intimately tied to that of our natural world.” (Quotes from the book)

While pretty simple, we often forget about it: we, humans are (very) simple creatures. Many (if not most) of our greatest pleasures come from simple things: eating, having sex, spending time with other living creatures: humans and animals, marvel at nature (or some sort of copy of it).

Singapore
One of Singapore’s highest rated attractions, the Super Tree Grove: technology, copying (and improving) trees (Daniel’s photo)

What if much of being happy is not something abstract, (and certainly not about earning a million dollar, having a yacht, a new sports car or a watch that costs an arm and a leg) but something utterly simple: hiking, swimming, jogging, walking, having sex, breathing clean air, etc.

Southern Bolivia
One of the main reasons tourists visit Bolivia: the Uyuni Salt Flats

As for me, it’s liberating to hear.

Iguassu Falls
Iguassu Falls, Argentinian side

The first moment I remember in my life when I felt overwhelming happiness I can remember was after reading “The Celestine Prophecy” – and focused on a… …tree for long minutes. One of the most remembered (and later, always repeated part) of our summer time with friends was skinny-dipping at the Lake Balaton. Some of my most remembered trips are bike trips we used to do during summers for 2-7 weeks for years. Falling asleep under the sky, being together, moving 100 kms a day, solving problems. Probably the greatest memory of visiting Machu Picchu is climbing the “Old mountain” on the spot: from ~2100 to over 3000 meters. One of the most memorable parts of a 9-day travel in Israel, West Bank and Jordan was swimming in the sea at Tel Aviv by night, naked.

Iceland
Otherworldly landscape in Iceland

The same way as it can be a good solution to volunteer at a homeless shelter when one is stuck with the meaningless questions of “What’s the meaning of life?”, it’s probably often enough to go for a long walk or hike when feeling miserable.

Croatia
Passing by a tree trunk in Croatia (picture taken while cycling)

After browsing my pictures I’ve had to realize I’m one of those people that need to travel to put things into perspective and realize what simple things can bring value in my daily life. I visited plenty of nature sites on travels (and they’d often become the highlights but looking for them in the vicinity of my home is usually not a priority). A bit cheesy, but true: “There’s always a sunrise and always a sunset and it’s up to you to choose to be there for it” (Cheryl Strayed: Wild)

Romania
Night under the stars on one of the bike trips in Romania

After all, being in the nature and taking the surroundings in is an active pursuit. Something like a “[…] warm glow that comes from investing ourselves in the world around us, come what may. It cannot be passively consumed or gulped down like a sugary drink. Happiness must be created by own ingenuity.” (Nick Baylis)

a hike in Cyprus
A practically unknown, short hiking path in Cyprus in December

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