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Gardening: How “Boring” Things Can Keep Us Happy

Updated: Jan 16

Before any botanists come for me, let me explain what I mean by “boring” and why I still choose to garden as much as possible.

The Dopamine Cycle

Over the last 5 years, researchers have demonstrated concern for how constant stimulation via social media has affected our neurochemistry. Paul G. Simeone, Ph.D., VP and Medical Director of Behavioral Health at Lee Health, had this to say: “There’s growing evidence to suggest that some individuals can develop a dependency on social media… that has led to symptoms typically associated with substance-use disorder.”

Substance abuse disorder?? Why? How? Well, it’s largely due to the production of dopamine.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that encourages us to repeat actions that release “happy chemicals” like oxytocin in the brain. In other words, dopamine is what motivates us to do things our brains enjoy. And if your brain enjoys the quick, bright, relentless stream of online content, dopamine will urge you to stay on it.

Researchers suggest that, as our brains get used to the perpetual spikes of dopamine we get from consistent social media use, we’ll crave it when we inevitably need to stop scrolling and do less stimulating things. The withdrawal symptoms are not unlike drug addiction— increased irritability, boredom, and fidgeting, and you’ll have a progressively harder time paying attention for extended periods of time.

And I have to admit, I was feeling more and more addicted by the day.

My Experience

Ever since the height of the pandemic, I have experienced tremendous difficulty disconnecting from digital spaces. It feels as though something is pushing me to pick up my phone and scroll. And before I know it, I’ve spent half an hour on Instagram without even realizing it.

Unfortunately, though, I’m not able to commit to a “social media fast”. I, like most entrepreneurs, rely on social media to run my business— I literally cannot work if I don’t have access to my email, Facebook, and Instagram— and that has made it extremely difficult to disconnect. There’s always a notification to read, a message to reply to, and an app asking me for my attention.

So, I was facing a problem: how could I reclaim my peace of mind without deleting all of the apps I need to grow and manage my business? Enter “low dopamine routines”.

Low-Dopamine Routines

I discovered the trend of “low dopamine” activities (ironically) on social media, where I found a host of people sharing their technology-free mornings and after-work hobbies. The idea is to altogether avoid digital interaction during certain periods of the day— especially mornings before work— and use that time to concentrate on mundane or peaceful activities like chores, creating art, yoga, going for a walk, or meditating.

While low-dopamine activities might still be entertaining on some level, the goal is to essentially detox your brain from the constant, potent stimulation it gets from being online. Conceptually, doing so will discourage procrastination and help facilitate mindfulness, productivity, and creativity.

I’ve never been diagnosed with ADHD, but I related to the thousands of neurodivergents on these forums whose brains needed a reprieve from the constant noise of technology.

So, I started putting my phone on do not disturb between 9pm + 7am.

The Experiment

Last year, was the first summer living in my home. I have always loved having house plants, but I had never had a garden before and as the months began to warm, I decided to take up gardening.

Gardening is a relatively passive activity that doesn't require much focus or effort. To me, that made it the perfect candidate for a long-term, low-dopamine hobby. So I got myself some plants and gloves and got to “work”.

This activity serves both immediate and longer-term gratification. While the results of clearing a bed of weeds, trimming hedges & planting new plant babes can be seen right after doing it, the growth of these plants, continued clearing, and creation of new beds take time.

I enjoy silence. However, it can be unnerving to some. I suggest trying to garden and listening to the birds, wind, leaves, and nature around you. Buuuuut if you need to jam out to some tunes while also enjoying mother nature, I love that too.

My Takeaway

Don’t get me wrong, the day-to-day process of plant care is nature’s equivalent to watching paint dry. But what I’ve learned so far from this experiment is that we were never meant to be as stimulated as we are: there is nothing natural about being fed a constant, colorful stream of information and entertainment. So when I chose to unplug and embrace the mundane beauty of plants, I actually felt happier. Fuller. Like my time was better spent here.

I’ve noticed that I’m using my phone less during my non-gardening time, too. I’ve started making more artwork in my spare time and I’ve discovered that sipping wine while doing a puzzle is a VERY underrated hobby. I am finally reconnecting with my own mind, and I’ve found that the more time I spend away from my phone, the longer I want to keep it shut off.

My goal with this experiment is to continue allowing my free time to be truly that: free from distractions, free from useless scrolling, and free from social media addiction.

So far, so good.


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