A Short List of How Outdoor Recreation Boosts—and Sustains—Good Feelings

On Wednesdays, I solicit questions from my little brother and his Generation Z friends about gear, endurance training, and outdoor recreation. Today, my little brother simply asked me how I was doing. I responded with “I’m pretty good, bro!” along with an explanation of how spending a weekend camping helped me achieve this good feeling. I’ve turned my response into a list of How Outdoor Recreation Boosts—and Sustains—Good Feelings. I think it would work well as a sticky note reminder on a bathroom mirror or office desk.

My brother’s text read: “What up sis! How you doing?”

Keefer. Keef Dog. Reefer. Little Bro. Thanks for asking how I’m doing. I finally took my own advice and got out on a two day bikepacking trip. For the first time in months, I feel really good.

If you looked around me you wouldn’t notice a change. My bedroom and van still need to be deep cleaned, my to-do list is still a mile long, and I’m still worried about employment as Arizona catapults into another COVID spike. My feelings of sadness and overwhelm (for myself and our country) remain present, but they aren’t paralyzing me anymore. Happiness and peace have saddled up right along side the more unpleasant feelings. As hippy-dippy as it sounds, I really believe two nights sleeping out under the stars on a bikepacking trip—route finding straight from my front door—sparked the change.

My advice to you is always, no matter what you are struggling with, to get outside for a few days. It’s funny it took me three months to take my own advice seriously. I was gardening and dog walking plenty, but that wasn’t enough. I needed to sleep in 50 mph winds (it was nuts!), wander aimlessly around alligator juniper trees, and—this is sort of shocking to me—plan a route without an agenda.

Normally, when life gets me down, I plan an epic: too many miles without enough food or water or time or clothes. Endorphins, coupled with the feeling of hell yeah, I destroyed that route, spark some good vibes for getting me through whatever is weighing me down. This trip was so different. I‘m hoping the jolt back to feeling good might be more sustainable this time around. We’ll see.

In the end, like a poster child for Generation Z, you tossed my advice back at me. The photos of you kayaking, fishing, and foraging for oyster mushrooms inspired me to finally commit to more outdoor activities. Thank you. As your know-it-all older sister, though: get out even more. Plan an overnight down the road from Mom’s house, to the sand dunes, once a week. Take your kayak on a multi-day trip somewhere nearby. Do this for yourself, and also for me. I’m competitive. Knowing you are getting out on adventures gets me out the door.

Outdoor recreation is an amazing tool for boosting happiness, joy, and—as much as I dislike the Eagles—peaceful easy feelings.

How Outdoor Recreation Boosts—and Sustains—Good Feelings

  • Exercise increases endorphins—it feels so good!
  • Outdoor navigation is empowering, it forces you to own your entire situation—it feels so good to be in control!
  • Disconnection from whatever it is about daily life weighing you down provides perspective—it feels so good to detach & re-evaluate!
  • Minimalism (all you need is in your backpack or bike or boat) allows hyperactive brains to calm the f*** down & focus on the present—it feels so good to think this is all I need
  • Wilderness can be free from societal judgements & pressure, as long as you adventure with the right people—it feels so good to experience life unguarded, without shame
  • Sunshine increases Vitamin D—it feels so good!

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