My Definition of Success

If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.      ~Henry David Thoreau

Do you keep quotations that are meaningful to you? I’ve always found inspiration in the words of wise people, so I created a quotation file where I can cut and paste the good ones I find. Today I was browsing through them looking for writing inspiration and those Thoreau words (above) spoke to me again.  I’ve long believed that people who care about the state of our natural world are not valued in modern society. We’re called derogatory terms like “tree huggers” or “rabid environmentalists” or “greenies.”

Fall leaves at Addison Oaks (800x533)I understand that people have different priorities in life and there are so many worthy causes that need attention. And I also realize that when a person’s livelihood is threatened by efforts to put stronger regulations on a specific industry, they’re more likely to fight any changes. But there will come a point where humans are finally forced to come to terms with the impact of a poisoned Earth on the survival of our species. Nevermind trying to save the whales or wolves. We’ll be in a struggle for our own survival. But before it gets to that point there may be wars for life-sustaining resources like water and food. It won’t be pretty, and I’m glad I won’t be around to see it.

Does this sound all gloom-and-doom or paranoid? Maybe it is.  But it’s a real possibility if we don’t start making some changes in lifestyles, and start enforcing strong environmental regulations.

Whenever I’m thinking of Thoreau, his friend Emerson usually pops into my mind as well. Many years ago I typed up an Emerson poem called “Success,” put it in a frame, and kept it on my desk. I’ve only discovered recently that there’s some question about whether Emerson really is the author, but that doesn’t change how much I love it. See if this resonates with you too:

(Possibly inaccurately attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson)

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

Sawyer Glaciers in Tracy Arm, Juneau (11) (735x800)

That type of success is much more meaningful to me than the type where you “climb a corporate ladder” just so you can work harder and keep making more money and buy more things….that’s just such an empty way to live life on a planet with such beauty and natural wonder, don’t you think?

It’s not easy to deal with the expectations other people put on us to be productive and materialistic. People may think you’re lazy or stupid. But the joke’s on them, isn’t it? Because those of us who truly understand and connect with the gifts of this planet are the ones who are really succeeding at life. And any day I get lumped into a category with Thoreau is a good day!

(This post is in response to today’s WordPress Daily Prompt.)

You Need Some Vitamin N

That’s Vitamin N as in Nature, and most of us are deficient in it. There have been lots of books and articles written about the health benefits of ecotherapy lately, but many of them are supported primarily by anecdotal evidence and sloppy research. But now we have proof that time spent outdoors is essential for mental health and positive patterns of social functioning, based on rigorous research conducted by Frances Kuo at the University of Illinois. She says, In greener settings, we find that people are more generous and more sociable. We find stronger neighborhood social ties and greater sense of community, more mutual trust and willingness to help others…. In less green environments, we find higher rates of aggression, violence, violent crime, and property crime — even after controlling for income and other differences. We also find more evidence of loneliness and more individuals reporting inadequate social support.”

I encourage you to follow the link above to read more about the study. If that doesn’t make you go outside, I don’t know what will! In fact, as I was gathering info for this article I had an urgent impulse to take a walk around our woods. So I did. And it felt gooood.

I’ve also been reading The Nature Principle, by Richard Louv, and find myself highlighting passage after passage for future reference. Did you know that exposure to the natural world can actually increase intelligence for some people? According to Louv, it apparently stimulates “our ability to pay attention, think clearly, and be more creative, even in dense urban neighborhoods.”

I think most creative types will be familiar with the inspiration that can strike during a walk in the woods or a stroll on the shore. I get lots of good ideas when I’m driving on a pretty country road, or even in the shower (I consider that “nature-like” since I’m in the water….). Other studies cited in this book (done by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan) suggest “that nature simultaneously calms and focuses the mind, and at the same time offers a state that transcends relaxation, allowing the mind to detect patterns that it would otherwise miss.”

I just found another book on this subject that sounds pretty good: Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature. I’ve just ordered it and will let you know what I think after I’ve had a chance to read it. In the meantime, here are a couple of my recent “therapy pics.” Enjoy!