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Country walks, dirt are recipe for happiness

May 17, 2007|by TIM ROWLAND


I don't want to hear anyone in Washington County complaining about being depressed or nothin' anymore because two new studies indicate that we ought to be the happiest people on the planet.

I love health studies because you get such a wealth of certitude from such a minute input of fact. Mark Twain said he never read health reports because he was afraid he "might die of a misprint," but personally I think they're great.

There's something about watching people hungrily reading every word in the hopes of adding three extra days to their lives that stirs the soul.


It's tempting to think that if these people took all the time they spent reading about life and traded it in for actually living life, they might be better off, but such a cynical outlook only serves to spoil the fun.

And if you take these reports to heart and live an extra six months, just think of the extra health studies you will be able to read in that time, reports that you never would have seen otherwise.

My only caveat is that they never tell you how to extend life in your 30s or 40s. It's always at the back end, and who needs that? If eating sprouts only propels you from age 95 to 95 1/2, leave me out of it.

But the most recent studies are more helpful because they involve mental, not physical, health.

One states that gardening is beneficial because plain old dirt contains some kind of organism that triggers the release of happy juice in the brain.

The second promises that something as simple as walks in the country can help reduce depression and raise self-esteem.

If there are two opportunities Washington County provides in spades, it's country walks and dirt.

Matter of fact, I think Hagerstown might be able to lend a little positive reinforcement to the study.

I can think of several people downtown who are no strangers to dirt and they seem unspeakably happy, always grinning and having inspired conversations with themselves and dancing - dancing or twitching, sometimes it's a bit hard to tell.

Who knows, the key to happiness might be as simple as bathtub avoidance. And I do not say this out of malice because I'm fully aware that this could be me in three years. Some would say less.

As for the country walks, this could be a tad dicier because it does involve - don't say this too loud - exercise. But it's a mild type, so perhaps we can handle it.

I'm a bit leery of this one, however, because the researchers would appear to have an agenda. They even have a name for it - ecotherapy - and it involves the proper "green" approach to mental health.

As I said, I'm dubious, but hey, if it gets them off cleaning products for a while, it might be a net gain.

According to the England/Wales mental health organization called Mind, the results were "startling." (If the people of Mind were startled, perhaps they all need to go for a walk in the country, but forget that.)

The study, brought to you by the good people of the University of Essex, "compared the benefits of a 30-minute walk in a country park with a walk in an indoor shopping center on a group of 20 members of local Mind associations.

"After the country walk, 71 percent reported decreased levels of depression and said they felt less tense while 90 percent reported increased self-esteem."

Immediately, it is clear that the "local Mind associates" were not teenage girls. You want to get one of them depressed, take her OUT of the mall.

And who knew that all this time we've been going to Pfizer, we should have been going to Weyerhaeuser? At least you don't have to put a suicide warning on a tree, except in a high wind.

"You're in a good mood today. Are you on Prozac?

"No, sumac."

Sunshine, fresh air, trees, rolling hillsides - all these make you feel better. Who ever would have imagined? Next, they'll be telling us that spring water is more beneficial than bourbon. And if there's a federal grant in it, I'd be willing to do that study myself.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or via e-mail at You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on

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