Being outside, walking or strolling and being in the elements lifts our spirits. I remember a book once that started out with the premise that GOD actually was an acronym and stood for the Great Out Doors! It made sense; the great outdoors – sunshine, wind, the sky – can bring about a significant increase in wellbeing. Could it just be possible that the reason some of us struggle to find happiness in the modern age is because many of us work at desks? In our world we have so many other things available to make us feel good when we are down but perhaps the simplest and the easiest is “Air and Exercise” to bring back an equilibrium, strengthen our resilience, boost our inner resources and lead back to happiness. I need to walk to the shop rather than drive; to take the stairs rather than the lifts; to garden rather than eat cake. (Ok, maybe that is going too far.) These things together may just be our equivalent to taking some air and exercise in the garden or a turn of the room in the Austen world. And it just might also be the answer to our environmental woes.
Taking our pleasures in the landscape is just assumed in the Austen universe. Being close to beauty and taking the time to enjoy it is part of the Austen truths that lead to a happiness. When Man-of-Merit-Captain Wentworth leads the expedition to Lyme in Persuasion, we can feel Anne’s appreciation of this landscape. There is so much to admire in the environs, one spot on the beach “where fragments of low rock among the sands make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, for sitting in unwearied contemplation”. This is the landscape to be celebrated, -“these places must be visited, and visited again, to make the worth of Lyme understood”. We do not have to travel far to find the beauty of landscape. It is close, it is immediate and it is balm for the soul.
In contrast, Bath is a place where the sophisticated set rules. Today it is tourist site every bit as beautiful as anywhere else in historic England, but then to Persuasion’s Virtuous-and-Undervalued-Anne Elliot, and arguably to Jane Austen as well, it was the place of privilege and society’s hierarchical games. Many of the characters, Anne Elliot in particular, “have a disinclination for Bath”. Perhaps this is because it represents a world where the simple pleasures of the garden are not celebrated.
There seems to be a way forward that so many people have already discovered; it is the elevation of the simple in a way that allows us to make choices that are good for us. We need to follow the Austen wisdom; be a part of our communities, look after our gardens, walk and exercise, feed our mind wholesome fuel, act with integrity and then, not only might we be ready for love, but our love will have more chance to last.
- Local Landscapes (happinesswithausten.wordpress.com)
3 responses to “Is sitting at our desks good for us?”
I agree, Austen’s novels do remind us to leave our desks, and to leave the city, too. Your post reminds me of Fanny Price’s sadness at missing “all the pleasures of spring” by “passing March and April in a town. She had not known before, how much the beginnings and progress of vegetation had delighted her. What animation both of body and mind, she had derived from watching the advance of that season which cannot, in spite of its capriciousness, be unlovely, and seeing its increasing beauties, from the earliest flowers, in the warmest divisions of her aunt’s garden, to the opening of leaves of her uncle’s plantations, and the glory of his woods. — To be losing such pleasures was no trifle….”
There’s evidence that she was aware, earlier, of her pleasure in flowers and plants, however. She regularly visits her plants in the East room, much earlier in the novel, and — I love this passage — she checks to see if “by giving air to her geraniums she might inhale a breeze of mental strength herself.” (And that quotation reminds me of the affection Anne of Green Gables has for geraniums, famously naming the apple-scented geranium in the Green Gables kitchen “Bonny.”)
Another pearl of wisdom from Jane Austen
Yes, so true…Many of the happiest people I know are those getting their hands dirty in the garden and with company, walking the dog and riding through the urban and country streets and lanes…