Fiann Ó Nualláin says the act of gardening means we get a high all the way from setting to reaping our crops. 

We are well into the season of boom and bloom, and maybe even glut. 

Give gratitude for the abundance and reap all the rewards of your hard toil.

That said for many this year, between the weather and the distractions of life and work having its toll on gardening time, the crops may not have been so bumper.

Not to worry, there are plenty of edibles still ripening for next season and there are plenty that can be planted now for next season and the one after. 

Growing your own food elevates mood and creates happy hormones

Gardening, especially productive gardening is ever ongoing.

It’s not so much a start and finish but many starts and many rewards along the way. 

What’s so great is that the preparation – the start again – is as rewarding as the tally up harvest. 

And I don’t just mean as a pleasant activity – no I mean a genuine physical and psychological reward.

So what’s so good about getting your hands dirty? The short answer is more pleasure or more ‘happiness’ if you would prefer. 

Ok it’s an activity you appreciate or you wouldn’t be reading the garden section of this paper — so yeah it’s something you get enjoyment from and we all need to do more of what makes us feel good and in doing so, you are going towards joy simply by touching soil.

Growing your own food elevates mood and creates happy hormones

Soil contains bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae which gets absorbed through our fingers and palms and triggers a release of serotonin in our brain. 

Serotonin is a happy hormone – it is a natural anti-depressant and mood lifter, but it also strengthens the immune system and provides a sense of wellbeing.

Being in the veg patch or on your allotment gets you in contact with daylight and sunshine — okay, perhaps not always the latter, but it’s the daylight that’s important.

Exposure to daylight boost serotonin production but it also resets your circadian rhythms — the natural cycles of your brain chemistry that makes sure you get a good night’s sleep and also what endorphin quota you will release tomorrow.

The day’s light you catch today buoys you up for tomorrow, the sunshine you get – well that cheers you up right there and then – but it too goes to stocking up your supply of happy hormones as the vitamin D from sun exposure helps the manufacture of those hormones.

Growing your own food elevates mood and creates happy hormones

This is why we like sunshine why it puts people into good humour — it is not just the warmth and positive associations — it is changing of our brain chemistry. 

It’s not just plants that feed off the sun, we do too. Always take caution with prolonged exposure (terms and conditions apply... etc).

The physicality of your gardening endeavours release endorphins that reward the effort – it’s not quite a post gym high but it is a feeling of wellbeing – amplified by the psychology of achievement.

Plus you don’t have to wait behind the preening poser, the puffing and grunting roid head and the terminally skinny girl, for the rowing machine. 

The garden is your bubble, getting it done – happy out.

So all the happiness that comes from a rewarding activity makes you feel good by lighting up sections of your brain that release feelgood chemicals into your blood stream. 

There will never be a gardener’s anonymous but just like sex and chocolate, it’s a hit worth more than gold and glory.

So we can harvest this happiness by just doing what we enjoy— gardening and GIYing. 

But if you GIY (food, herbs, edible flowers) more than you garden (roses, nice lawn, seasonal hanging basket) then there is a bigger reward. 

Growing your own food elevates mood and creates happy hormones

No, not foods and herbs that elevate mood— it is what has become known as the ‘harvesting high’. It is not a new thing. In fact it is hard wired into our DNA.

It is part of our evolution and stretches back to when we were hunter-gatherers. 

The incentive to keep looking and picking, to get up to hunt on an ice cold winter morning or combat the repetitive strain and monotony of stripping a blackberry bush, was a chemical reward – not the food – a hit of dopamine.

Unfortunately that high today has become retail therapy or worse — online shopping addiction, but once it was essential to survival of the human race, not just the rush of a sweet pair of shoes.

We who harvest food still get it. In fact we get it even before we cup that pear and twist or fork up that bounty of potatoes. 

Seeing the fruit, catching a whiff of the leeks as you lean in to pull, also triggers a dopamine release.

Growing your own food elevates mood and creates happy hormones

You don’t get that panicking up the aisles looking for seedless grapes and pre-washed and pre-chopped fajita veg mix and taking your frustration out on the shop girl— and if that’s you all over, then you probably don’t deserve it.

So when you grow your own – you get happy hormones released when you prepare the soil and plant your crop, you get happy hormones as you physically tend, and hits of pleasure as you watch and smell it ripen or mature.

And then when you harvest you get even more. 

That’s all before you cook and eat and thoroughly enjoy your spoils — sure you’re spoiled already.


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