Sandi Schwartz is the founder and director of the Ecohappiness Project, and an author and journalist who specializes in parenting, environmental, and wellness topics. I couldn’t wait to talk to Sandi about happiness, habits, and her new book, Finding Ecohappiness: Fun Nature Activities to Help Your Kids Feel Happier and Calmer (Amazon, Bookshop).
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?
Sandi: I treasure my morning walks, whether they are in my neighborhood, at a local park, or during the summer along the beach. Listening to the birds chirping, breathing in the fresh air, and mindfully viewing the colorful nature around me is my daily meditation. Getting this exercise and meditative time in kickstarts my day so I can clear my head. As a writer, I often come up with ideas for blog posts, articles, and other projects during my walks since nature stimulates creativity.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
The most fascinating aspect of happiness to me is that we each have our own baseline, and even when we have an amazing thing happen and we get a boost of happiness, we end up back at that set point. Genetics influence 50 percent of our happiness, while our life circumstances control 10 percent. That leaves us with 40 percent to take our own action to try to feel happier. Knowing this helped me understand my own personality and happiness level to accept what my baseline is and to recognize what I have some control over to change how I feel.
You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or your readers – most?
Everyone is always fascinated to learn that we can benefit from nature connection even through a screen or virtual reality. Scientists are closely studying this concept and are finding that simulated nature can have medicinal effects, although not as effective as being immersed in nature. In an analysis of over thirty studies that reviewed the effects of spending time in nature versus urban environments, researchers found that being exposed to nature led to people feeling happier whether they were outdoors or viewing nature on a screen. They also discovered that simulated environments with realistic images of nature, such as interactive VR, led to greater psychological benefits than less immersive choices like photographs.
Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit – or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?
One of the most important habits that I am trying very hard to keep is writing in my brief evening journal. I write five bullet points: the most important aspect of my day, something social I did to connect with others, and three pieces of gratitude. I find that keeping this daily habit helps me feel more balanced and my emotions in check. My biggest challenge from the pandemic was getting way too comfortable being at home, so my goal these days is to try and be more social. Tracking this in my journal helps keep me on track.
Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
I am a Questioner; no surprise there. I am very self-motivated and tend to do what I want on a daily basis, minus my commitments to my husband, children, and work clients. I definitely wake up every day and think, “What needs to get done today, and why?” I am constantly updating my daily to-do lists and personal goals. I am also thirsty for knowledge and love asking questions and doing research to find the answers. I also resist doing anything that seems to lack purpose. Additionally, I am an INFJ and have a huge need and passion to change the world, which is evident by my focus on environmentalism and exploring how nature can improve well-being. If I am not living my purpose, I begin to struggle emotionally. I crave new challenges and goals.
Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)
I am a homebody and most effective in meeting my goals and sticking to my habits when I am at home with my routine. Therefore, anything that knocks me off my game, like travel or stressful situations, interferes with my ability to keep my healthy habits that improve my happiness.
Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?
My husband taught me a very helpful phrase that I turn to often when my anxiety is acting up: “This too shall pass.” I find this quote very soothing, as it helps me shift my focus from the stressful situation that is freaking me out to realize that I have faced many similar challenges and was so upset, but time marched on and they are now distant memories. If we can master this type of shift in our thought process, then we can have more control over our strong emotions like anxiety.
Has a book ever changed your life – if so, which one and why?
Many books have changed my life. I truly believe that books come into my life when I need them. I might just happen to see a book at the library or in a bookstore, or maybe a friend or someone in a Facebook group posts a recommendation. It’s as if the book calls out my name. Some examples include The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz (Amazon, Bookshop), Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks by Barry McDonagh (Amazon, Bookshop); Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen (Amazon, Bookshop); and your book, The Happiness Project, which changed the trajectory of my career path to focus on positive psychology and ultimately the intersection of nature and mental health. [Gretchen: That’s so wonderful to hear!] I also believe that authors write the books they need the most, and that’s what happened with me and my book, Finding Ecohappiness (Amazon, Bookshop).
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