In the Garden:
Middle South
January, 2006
Regional Report

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If you want to be happy, plant something!

Happiness is Gardening

Did you ever wonder what makes people happy? Researchers in England did, so they developed a theory and tested it during a ten-week, made-for-television social experiment. Dubbed "Making Slough Happy," the experiment took place in the town of Slough during the summer of 2005. It was led by psychologist Richard Stevens, who believed that if the residents of Slough followed his Happiness Manifesto, they would be happier.

Why the town of Slough? Described as an "ordinary British town," Slough (pronounced sloo) has its share of challenges to achieving a state of bliss. For starters, it sits just east of London beneath the flight path of Heathrow International airport, and some describe its character as dull at best and depressing at worst, with its unattractive concrete buildings and traffic snarls.

The Happiness Manifesto
Prior to the start of the the experiment, the researchers consulted "happiness experts," gathered various theories about what makes people happy, and distilled them into the ten steps of their Happiness Manifesto. Many of the steps involve increasing social interaction; others include being grateful, laughing more, and doing good deeds. But the one that caught my eye was number four: "Plant something." Here's the full list:

1. Get physical. Exercise for half an hour three times a week.
2. Count your blessings. At the end of each day, reflect on at least five things you're grateful for.
3. Have an hour-long uninterrupted conversation with your partner or closest friend each week.
4. Plant something. Even if it's a window box or container. Keep it alive!
5. Cut your TV viewing by half.
6. Smile at and/or say hello to a stranger at least once a day.
7. Phone a friend.
8. Have a good laugh at least once a day.
9. Every day make sure to give yourself a treat.
10. Daily kindness: Do an extra good turn for someone each day.

The Experiment and the Results
During the experiment, the researchers focused on 50 volunteers, who were chosen to reflect "a cross-section of the local community, as well as a range of moods." The happiness levels of the Slough volunteers were measured before, during, and after the project. The researchers claim remarkable results: The group's overall happiness from the beginning to the end of the project revealed a 33 percent increase.

Of course, we gardeners know that planting is enjoyable and rewarding. But think about it: Of all the activities in the world to include in their manifesto, the researchers felt that growing things was so important to a person's well-being that it made the top ten. You won't find any other hobbies on the list. Not fishing, knitting, bowling, reading, or going to the movies. Not birding, art, watching NASCAR, or playing chess. Just planting!

It's easy to poke fun at the whole experiment. After all, does happiness mean the same thing to everyone? Can you really measure a person's -- let alone a whole town's -- happiness? (And are there really such things as "happiness experts?") But cynicism aside, it is an interesting concept, and certainly following the steps in the manifesto can't hurt.

So, as you are sifting through seed catalogs and planning your gardens, remember that planting and gardening may truly be one of the keys to happiness. If you need justification for spending just a little too much on plants, now you have it!

For more information on the experiment, visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/lifestyle/tv_and_radio/making_slough_happy/


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