I'm writing this on Thanksgiving, the American festival that originated as a celebratory autumn harvest feast. The world has been made so tiny by the internet that it has been hard to miss the blogs, podcasts and social media posts about Thanksgiving, often with lists of things people are grateful for. The strong link between gratitude and Thanksgiving sent me down a rabbit hole to find out whether there are differences between being thankful and being grateful. The first seems to be a fleeting moment, the second an ongoing mindset. Gratitude embodies a state of continual thankfulness. I then started freefalling into the gratitude internet hole, which is generally a much more positive place than a lot of the internet!
I tried keeping a gratitude journal for a while, writing down 3 things every day that I was grateful for, but it didn't stick. Not because I don't have things to be grateful for, but because really, there's so much. To live in a country where I can turn on the tap and safely drink the water; to have access to as many books as I could ever want to read, for free, from the local library; for coffee, because, well, it's coffee. However when I started noting down 3 things I notice every day in nature, a habit that is coming up to its second anniversary now, I immediately started feeling more grateful. Paying attention seems to be a key component to being grateful and a way of not becoming immune to the good things in your life. Noticing nature is my way of paying attention, whether I am looking out of the window at the sky (currently all kinds of glorious pinks) or walking in the rain. I know not everyone agrees that there is enjoyment in noticing the sting of cold rain on your cheeks or the smell of damp leaves and I do appreciate my good waterproofs and non-leaky boots, but it's worth giving it a go.
Nature prescriptions are a way of encouraging people to go out and experience specific things in nature every month. For some people it's a nudge and for others it is the permission to take the time to do it. It's probably easiest to quote the RSPB who set up the first project in Shetland in 2017:
Nature Prescriptions are designed to support GPs and other healthcare professionals to formally prescribe connecting with nature so their patients can harness the benefits of nature for health and wellbeing. They use their medical knowledge to choose when a prescription is appropriate and then customise it to an individual patient’s needs and abilities as part of their treatment.
Being in contact with nature doesn't just make you happier, but is also associated with lower rates of type 2 diabetes and increased immune function, amongst other good things. The health benefits, mental and physical, are real! The actual prescription comes in the form of a leaflet with information about the positive benefits of nature, plus links to local groups and greenspaces. This is accompanied by a calendar, each month offering a range of appropriate ways to connect with nature in the current season in your local area. In preparation for talking to some people about the possibility of introducing them to Lanarkshire I turned to the November page of the Edinburgh calendar. It turns out they're talking my language:
Really look at a rainbow. Can you see all seven colours? Where does it begin and end? Remember: “no rain, no rainbows”!
This prompt was in my mind on our Glen Esk walk last Sunday when the rainbow in the above picture appeared. I really looked at it! We all did. We stopped. Cameras came out. The seven colours were extraordinarily clear, red through to violet. As I was extolling the virtues of rainbows, one of the younger members of the party asked me if I knew about circular rainbows. I had to admit that it wasn't something I had considered. I was aware that you see more or less of the arc of the rainbow depending on where you are in relation to the horizon, but it had never occurred to me that if you were, so to speak, above the horizon that you could see the full circle. Obviously I came home and I started searching the internet. May I also say that the rainbow portion of the internet is a pretty joyful place. So I can now tell you that, if conditions are right and you are not on the ground, for instance on a tall building or in a plane, then you might get lucky. Check out the met office website for a better explanation. Also check out this amazing drone footage of a circular rainbow at Victoria Falls. There endeth the science lesson.
Of course, I didn't need a prompt to look for rainbows, but I did need to be reminded to *really* look at them. Sharing my love of rainbows with others also means I now know more about them than I did before. (Learning is good for you too - another of the 5 ways to wellbeing!) I'm excited about the idea of nature prescriptions, as a way of supporting people to notice new things in nature and perhaps feel better as a result. I'm also grateful to all the researchers that are working on all these different aspects of nature connectedness, giving us the tools to best pass our experiences of nature connection on to others. If you want to see what the other November prompts are, check out the Edinburgh calendar here, and keep your fingers crossed for a Lanarkshire version.