Foraging and happiness - it's not just about the food

Foraging is a wonderful activity - not only do you take home some delicious wild foods but you get to spend time outside walking in nature and breathing in the fresh air. But foraging is so much more than a lovely walk with wild foods on top, the process of foraging can reduce stress levels, increase your sense of well-being and happiness, and help to protect nature.

When people go foraging they usually have a simple goal of finding edible plants, berries, fungi etc.  We head off into the fields and woods with our baskets and a sense of eager anticipation, already in a positive mindset the minute we set out.  Finding edible fungi isn't totally straightforward as they don't just jump out at us, we have to hunt for them - searching slowly and carefully through the leaf litter with our eyes seeking out the shapes and colours we are looking for.  Foragers call this "getting your eye in" and once you do the fungi become easier and easier to spot. Our brains become almost completely focussed on finding the outline of a cap, the scent of ceps, the colour of chanterelles and they are so busy at this point they stop worrying about work, jobs, problems.  Psychologists refer to this intense but peaceful kind of concentration as the 'flow state". Wikipedia refers to this as "the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement and enjoyment in the process of the activity". 

Flow or "being in the zone" is important because research shows it can increase happiness, make us feel more motivated, increase our creativity levels and help us feel more emotionally stable.  Clearly, these are all positive outcomes, valuable in all our lives, and this sense of wellbeing doesn't just stop when the activity stops - it carries on for a period of time afterwards. The flow state brought on by slow, careful foraging is arguably more important than the free food.

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As you become more experienced at "getting your eye in" not only do you spot the tiny mushrooms, fresh shoots or the shiny berries, you begin to notice lots of other little details - the colour of the moss, the lichens on the tree trunks, the sound of individual bird song.  All of these add to your flow state and bring unexpected joy in the small things.  This deep attention on the natural world leads not only to you feeling better but also to a closer connection to the natural world, also known as "nature connectedness".  Ongoing research into this shows that this deep level of connection promotes well-being in our health and personal lives as well as increasing our desire to protect the natural world.  People become more involved in activities that support wildlife and natural spaces.

So foraging is not just about the wild foods, it's about so much more - your health and well-being and ultimately, the health of our planet.  Find some time to pick up your basket and head off into the wilds and get slowly "into the zone" - it's good for you and the planet.