Every spring growing up, I would hike with my family through the woods in search of puddles. But these were not just puddles; they were life-giving environments. In these shallow spaces were hundreds of tadpoles, the larval stage of frogs. With the temperatures rising every day, we knew that these areas would dry up quickly, leaving many tadpoles without the chance to grow out of their homes.
With buckets in tow, my family and I would head to the streams to collect water to fill the puddles. Emptying one bucket after the next, we could provide enough water to last through the spring. In these moments, I realized that I wasn’t just giving to nature, but I was gifting myself gratitude through helping others.
Something unique happens when we reconnect with nature. When we experience birds’ songs, the sight of a distant mountain, or the feeling of the crisp wintery leaves, we are connecting with something greater than ourselves.
Spending time in nature has shown to contribute to increased wellbeing. According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia, participants who noticed how natural objects made them feel reported higher levels of happiness and connectedness to other people compared to those who did the same for human-made objects. Through nature, we benefit not only from lowered cortisol levels and increased well-being, but also a heightened awareness of our place within the greater community.
Humans are hardwired to help others, and according to clinical psychologist Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., “When we take actions that are caring and loving, we feel more love in return.”
By helping others, it connects us to something greater than ourselves. I’ve personally experienced that being in nature has allowed me to become more empathetic and compassionate to those around me.
I’ve found nature allows me to look outward into the world. It has shown me the world extends beyond my street and neighborhood. As I experience nature through all my senses, I feel grateful and connected to the world beyond.
While it seems simple to start reconnecting with nature at home, your backyard can be a great place to begin this relationship. It is incredible to see how many plants and animals can cohabitate in a relatively small area. Nature has taught me that things can live and thrive together. From the birds, squirrels, Oaks, and marsh that share a space in my backyard, this small ecosystem has shown me that animals and plants often depend on one another and need each other for survival. Nature demonstrates just how easy and seamless life can be if we look to care for one another.
The more time I spend outdoors and in spaces where I can reflect, the more I have grown to appreciate what I have around me. Taking a moment to slow down and relax in nature has allowed me to become content with the present. Not only do natural spaces convey a sense of ease and tranquility, but they enable us to contemplate more freely.
There are so many ways that exist to connect virtually. There are just as many ways to connect physically to the greater world around us. Kayak along the Wando River. Hike through the Francis Marion Forest. Bike along the Daniel Island loop. Or even learn about local wildlife through a Berkeley County nature walk. It may be the start of something that will give you a lifetime of gratitude and joy.
Matthew Donohue has lived on Daniel Island for five years and is a graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communications.