The Great Happiness Interview: Why Trees Will Make You Happier and Healthier

“I climbed to my favorite spot in my apple tree and cried.”

Cheryl Rickman, Sunday Times best-selling author and positive psychology expert, tells me how a tree brings solace and solace in the worst of times.

“My mum Denise passed away suddenly at the age of 43 when I was only 17 and climbing that tree in my moment of grief gave me escape and comfort,” she told

In that moment, Cheryl knew that even though she was feeling bad, “the trees made me feel better.”

It inspired her career in positive psychology and her new book Tree Glee: How And Why Trees Make Us Feel Better (Welbeck Publishing, £16.99) and her passion for discovering the benefits of the outdoors, nature and trees for to comfort, restore and revitalize us.

Here, Cheryl discusses with us what we can learn from the wisdom of forests to improve our own well-being.

What is the connection between trees and happiness?

Many scientific studies show that trees calm and uplift us: they calm our minds and make us feel positive emotions such as awe, serenity, joy and gratitude.

Studies show that walking in trees turns off the stress response, replacing the production of cortisol and adrenaline with happiness hormones such as oxytocin and serotonin.

When we walk through the woods, our calm response is engaged. We don’t even have to walk: In a Japanese field study of 24 forest sites, even standing still while looking at trees reduced stress levels.

‘When we walk through the woods, our calm response is engaged (Photo: Getty Images)

Why is it so important right now to go into the woods to improve our well-being?

We currently spend between 90% and 93% of our time indoors (and 6% of that time inside cars) and spend more time glued to screens – texting, typing, gaming, watching TV, than we don’t go to sleep.

As time spent outdoors decreases, anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses are on the rise. We have never needed to reconnect with nature as much as today.

Trees calm and uplift us: they soothe our minds and make us feel positive emotions such as awe, serenity, joy and gratitude.

Why do trees make us feel better?

Trees not only help heal our bodies – willow bark gives us aspirin, cocoa trees provide theophylline for asthma medication, pine needles can be used as an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever – but they also help our mental health.


A study looking at tree density in relation to antidepressant prescriptions in London found that residents of tree-lined streets were prescribed fewer drugs than those in places without trees. While a study in Scotland found that urban residents living near public parks with trees had lower self-reported stress and cortisol levels than those who had no nearby trees or green spaces.

The mental health benefits of trees are why forest therapy has taken off in countries with the highest rates of suicide and depression.

Borjomi Khargauli National Park, Georgia

“It’s like we are healing our minds and bodies by tapping into the wisdom of the trees” (Photo: Getty Images)

What is Forest Therapy?

It is also called forest bathing. It is an immersive experience where you connect deeply with nature while sharpening your senses or attention.

The best place to bathe in the forest is in the woods with dense forest cover, as this means a higher concentration of phytoncides – which are botanical compounds, which work to calm our autonomic nervous system and help us sleep.

How do you “bathe” in a forest?

The best time is either in summer when phytoncides are at their highest, or after rain and during fog when the air is humid. Above all, take your time, walk slowly, adapt your senses to what you see, hear and smell. The recommended distance to cover is between 2 km and 5 km to generate the optimal effect (although forest bathing can have a positive impact on us in just 20 minutes). It is very popular in Japan and Korea.

We have never needed to reconnect with nature as much as today.

Why is that?

More than a quarter of Japan’s population, who work longer hours than anywhere else in the world, regularly take part in forest bathing.

Korea, which has the highest suicide rate in the world, has invested millions in forest bathing. As part of its national forest plan, South Korea, the first country to offer a forest healing curriculum, has built a forest healing complex and aims to create “a green welfare state, such is the appreciation and tree awareness.

It is as if we are healing our minds and bodies by tapping into the wisdom of the trees.

Wisdom of trees?

We can learn a lot from trees. They collaborate, they don’t compete. They understand that the health of the forest depends on the healthiest tree. They know when to ask for help and ask for nutrients if they are short. If you think about it, good partners stay tuned to each other’s needs and nurture each other’s well-being, which is exactly what trees do. Tree roots reach out and combine with other trees in their community, intertwining up to 100 feet and connecting trees from one forest edge to the next. A single tree can be connected to up to 250 others via this “Wood Wide Web”, a term coined by professor of forest ecology and author of Finding the Mother Tree, Suzanne Simard, who discovered that fungal threads connect almost every tree in the whole forest.

Trees are helpful and altruistic. Not just to each other, they can even help you be more productive at work.

View looking at lush green branches of big tree and big green tree in spring.

“We can learn a lot from trees” (Photo: Getty Images)

What do you mean?

Trees don’t just soothe us, they help us focus! Spending even 20 minutes around trees can boost our memory and concentration, catalyze creativity, and open our minds to problem solving.

In a University of Michigan study, people sent for a walk in an arboretum performed 20% better on a memory test the second time they took it, compared to those who took it again. test after walking around the city, which showed no improvement.

And the more time we spend replacing technology with trees, the better. Another study showed that four days of immersion in nature and less exposure to technology resulted in a 50% improvement in a creative problem-solving test! 50%! Isn’t it amazing? !

Trees can transform your life. This is why we must take care of our trees. The trees are in trouble.

In trouble?

Yes, despite promises and urgency to reduce deforestation, which along with the burning of fossil fuels is a major cause of global warming, satellite images reveal that 2020 to 2021 has seen the highest level of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest for over 15 years.

Although scientists are rushing to fill emergency seed banks so they can replant one in five endangered tree species, many trees cannot be preserved this way.

Trees can transform your life. This is why we must take care of our trees. The trees are in trouble.

But what can we do?

Sometimes when someone takes a stand for trees, it can turn into a conservation movement.

I love the story of Kenyan Wangari Maathai aka Mama Miti, “mother of trees”. During her lifetime, Wangari stood up for women’s rights, bravely spoke out against political corruption and, as the founder of the Green Belt Movement, was responsible for planting 30 million trees and conserving well others, while allowing women to unite for social reform. In turn, she became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize (for environmental and humanitarian efforts).

As a child, Wangari had seen tree after tree fall as British colonialists felled them to make space for tea plantations. Radically, his mother decides to send him to school, rare for girls at that time; and Wangari continued her studies in the United States.

Back in post-colonial Kenya, the highly educated Wangari noticed how her nation’s economy and ecology were broken. His compatriots still needed to fell trees to plant and export tea, tobacco and coffee, long after the British left in 1963. In 1977, Wangari traveled from village to village, persuading people, especially the women, to create tree nurseries and to plant trees. of the Green Belt Movement. The saplings from these nurseries were offered as a token of tribal peace when the president tried to stir up trouble. She protested the president’s deforestation plans and, despite imprisonment, persisted in making her voice heard.

Other countries listened and eventually the president’s corruption was exposed and he was removed from office.

Wangari then became Deputy Minister of Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife.

Wangari knew that when we plant a tree, we are planting hope for the future. And she knew that when people come together in harmony, much can be accomplished.

How to connect with trees and yourself

  • Find a spot under, next to, or near a tree that you can visit regularly, and stay there for 15 minutes. Make a commitment to sit under your tree in your calendar at regular times, whether daily, weekly, or monthly.
  • Sit by your tree and notice what arouses your curiosity and wonder. Touch the forest floor, smell the flowers and the grass. Slowly draw inspiration from what you can experience from your “seating point”.
  • Watch out for visiting birds. See if you can decipher their songs.
  • Visit your “sitting spot” at different times of the day and year. Visit in different seasons, depending on weather conditions.
  • Focus your attention on yourself for a moment to balance awareness of nature with awareness of self. Notice what you think and feel. What comes to the surface?
  • The word ‘tree’ comes from the same root as ‘truth’. Ask yourself: What is true for me? What matters most? How to stay firm?

Tree Glee: How and Why Trees Make Us Feel Better (Welbeck Publishing, £16.99) is out now

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