How to Be Happy: Go Outside

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

I have written before about how I’ve developed a new appreciation for nature on this trip. The landscapes of America are so varied and breathtaking, it’s easy to get lost out the window as we drive through new terrain. But I think perhaps it is more than novelty and grandeur that has seduced me. I suspect that there is something magical to be found outside.

Yesterday I had the whole city of San Francisco to myself. I was armed with a MUNI pass, a camera, and a little bit of cash in my pocket. I was eager to explore all of her urban offerings, to indulge in a little cosmopolitan fantasy, if only for an afternoon.

I went to the park.

Of all the places that called to me, this siren song was the sweetest. I wanted to take my time strolling the paths and snap a photo or two before heading back into the real city. It was just going to be a brief interlude.

But oh, how Mother Nature drew me in. The smell of the eucalyptus trees beckoned me deeper into the grassy oasis, where the sound of falling water caught me completely by surprise. I smiled at the runners and power walkers who passed me on the sidewalks; fitness is as much apart of the landscape here as the hills. As for me, I kept walking, pausing every now and then to attempt to capture a moment with my camera.

After a few hours in the park, I considered hopping on a cable car and making my way to a trendy cafe for an afternoon of people watching. Instead, I caught the Fulton-5 bus just outside the park and went to the beach.

I’ve seen quite a few beaches in my lifetime, and I never stop loving the way the water laps at the land. At Ocean Beach, the beach laps at the city, its sands unable to be contained by boundary lines or walls. Inspired by the rebellious land, I took off my own socks and shoes and walked out onto the sand. I turned towards the sun, took a deep breath, and swept my arms above my head in salutation.

I spent a half an hour doing yoga on that beach, just because I could and I’ve always wanted to and there I was with the chance.

After putting my socks and shoes back on, I hiked up and then down a big hill to the Sutro Bath Ruins, an abandoned attempt at luxury on the wild coastline. I can’t imagine why the bath houses and salt water pools were left to decay, but I’m glad they’ve been left for me. I took a few more pictures and several more deep breaths, and then hiked up yet another hill to yet another bus.

I rode a few miles into the city and ate alone at an Indian buffet. The little restaurant on Geary, the buses, and the BART I took home would be my only urban exposure of the day. I didn’t miss a thing.

I came home happy, exhausted, and convinced that time outside is an integral part of my ongoing happiness. I don’t know if it’s the medicinal effects that sunshine has been reported to have on depression, or the physical activity that almost always seems to accompany being out instead of in. All I know is that I struggle to get outside often enough, but when I do I am restored.

It’s funny how the things that are best for us are always the most difficult to fit into our lives.

This post, and this trip, are made possible in part by sponsorship from Silver Dolphin Books, who have a whole bunch of children’s books dedicated to the magic of the world outside.

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  1. Thumper says:

    The Sutro Baths burned down in 1966 and the remains have been left there, mostly as a tourist draw. The Batha actually closed before the fire, and there were questions about whether or not the fire was deliberate…but man, they had been there since the late 1800s. I would have loved to have seen them in their prime.SF is one of my favorite places, ever. I live about 50 miles from it and often BART in for the heck of it. I need to figure out MUNI, though…not knowing the bus lines makes for long days walking around. Just stay out of the Tenderloin ;)

  2. heidikins says:

    The Sutro Ruins are one of my favorite parts of San Francisco. So beautiful! I'm so glad you loved them!xox

  3. Jb says:

    Loved to read about SF as we are about 25 minutes outside of town and it's been, oh, years(!) since I have been to ocean beach….when I lived in the city I went often. Glad you've made it here, and looking forward to hear what's next for your family….my son and I watched your tour of the RV and told him what you were doing – he was intrigued – husband less so. Are you going to connect with the happiness project folks at uc Berkeley this week?

  4. the thought of you doing a little yoga on the beach in sf made my heart skip a beat. maybe two.huge smile here.

  5. p.s. it is 66 degrees here in pittsburgh today. 66! at the end of february! gotta go eat sushi and then walk my dog until one us has our legs fall off!

  6. Happiness says:

    Happiness comes to them who opens their door for small treats that life provides to them. So be happy and live longer!

  7. Colleen says:

    I do believe you're right, because I just realized I was smiling the entire time I read this post!

  8. Megan says:

    I love to be outside, be it city, beach or country. It truly is restorative.It makes me happy to no end thinking about you spontaneously doing yoga on the beach. I hope you get back to that beach at sunset and do the same thing as an evening wind down. Thanks for showing me some parts of SF that I didn't have time to see!

  9. twinmamateb says:

    I have been to those exact spots. The wind…I remember the glorious, salt filled wind.

  10. tracey says:

    Oh, the beach… I could use some beach right now. Great pictures. SUnshine and wind can do wonders for the soul.

  11. Darla says:

    You mean go outside if you are in SF, right? Because I went outside here in IA today and I'm not so happy about it. :D

  12. martymankins says:

    I love those pics from the beach. I have loved the beach since I first started going as a child (I grew up in Orange County, near Disneyland) and hope to return someday to live at least within a modest driving distances (an hour or less away)

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