I’ve always loved walking and nature, so while I was looking for weekend activities at the beginning of the summer, hiking seemed like an obvious choice. It quickly developed into a hobby, and with the weather cooling down, and the leavings changing colors, it’s the perfect time to enjoy the last few weeks outside before winter hits.
Getting out into the fresh air, away from the bustle of the city, the clammy air in my office building, and the stuffy coffee shops around town, is a welcome relief to an often stressful and fast-paced life. Hiking is a simple activity that only requires a good pair of boots, plenty of water and snacks, and a positive mindset to enjoy. In many ways, hiking has transformed my life and made me a happier person.
How? I’m glad you asked.
I disconnect. If you’ve got your iPhone in your palm while you’re hiking, you’re doing it wrong. One of the best aspects of taking a long, concentrated walk in nature, is that it encourages you to get away from the constant Facebook notifications and text messages that clog your phone.
During longer hikes, and when I’m backpacking for multiple days, I know better than to drain my phone battery. Even during shorter day hikes, the urgency that comes with answering every text during a typical day, disappears as soon as I begin to walk and observe earth’s natural wonders.
There’s nothing quite like making eye contact with a mother dear and her freckled babies during a dewy morning hike through the woods. If you’re too busy Tweeting, you’ll never notice the small wonders surrounding you.
I focus on the present moment. Climbing over fallen trees, ducking under branches, and dodging poison ivy is hard work. It takes constant focus and awareness of your surroundings.
During a typical day, I often find my thoughts trailing off. I think about what I ate the night before, or what my plans are for the next weekend. I’m distracted and unaware.
When I’m hiking, I’m constantly focused on putting one foot in front of the other. I’m conscious of my body. Of the blisters forming on my toes, and the trickle of sweat behind my left ear. I’m aware of the clarity of my mind, and I’m aware of my contentment with life.
When I’m hiking, I don’t think about the reports due on Monday, or the date last weekend that went horribly wrong. I just stay present. This allows me to enjoy the simple pleasures that come with exploring nature, and temporarily escaping typical responsibilities.
It boosts my morale. Hiking has shown me that joy and happiness is simple. Life is often complicated by our jobs, our university courses, and our relationships. None of these outside factors need to change in order for us to find happiness; hiking has shown me that. A weekend spent partying often leaves me feeling groggy and hung-over. A weekend of hiking leaves me feeling refreshed, accomplished, and pleasantly sore.
According to AmericanHiking.org, “Endorphins released by your body during a walking workout can lift your spirits and keep them there throughout the day or night – keeping your brain as healthy as your body.” It’s obvious that hiking is a great physical workout, but I’m always pleasantly surprised by the mental health benefits that accompany a nice hike.
Hiking has many positive side effects, and is a simple way to get into nature and away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. It can be as simple as trekking through your own property for an afternoon, as adventurous as taking a road trip to Yellowstone National Park for a week-long hike, or as daring as thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.
There are beautiful trail systems across the U.S. (and abroad), and there may be some noteworthy trails right in your hometown. Whatever your preferences, hiking has many positive outcomes.
Just remember to stay safe on the trail, stay hydrated, and always hike with another person. Hiking is an activity that has greatly boosted my positive outlook. It has shown me that happiness is simple, and that it’s all around me; sometimes I just have look for it.