Its name is Mycobacterium vaccae, and it's a substance (currently under study) that has already been found to mirror the effect on neurons that drugs like Prozac provide. The substance has shown to stimulate serotonin production in the brain of humans, which is the chemical that makes you feel relaxed and content. No more costly visits to the therapist. No more dangerous medications that magically "fix" your happiness. This bacterium is found in the most natural of places - the ground. That's right, dirt is the new happy!
Lack of serotonin has been linked to depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and bipolar problems (just to name a few) and so far this new bacterium appears to be an all-naturalantidepressant. The best part is that it's found in soil, one of the most common resources provided by Mother Earth. It has no adverse health effects, no long list of possible side effects and no skyrocketing costs like engineered pharmaceuticals. These antidepressant microbes found in soil are harmless and super easy to find. Just go outside and make contact with the dirt. Mud pies for everyone!
"These antidepressant microbes in soil cause cytokine levels to rise, which results in the production of higher levels of serotonin. The bacterium was tested both by injection and ingestion on rats and the results were increased cognitive ability, lower stress and better concentration to tasks than a control group" (gardeningknowhow.com). We may not be rats, but the results show some pretty solid evidence.
While gardening or interacting with dirt and soil you can inhale the bacteria simply by breathing, have topical contact with it and even absorb it through your bloodstream (if you have any cuts or open wounds). And the natural effects are believed to last for up to 3 weeks. Gardening making you happy is not a new concept for us. We've already explored how gardening can enhance your relationship with your food and the world around you. So we're extremely excited to find this new research offering the science behind the feeling.
What have you done this week to increase your happiness? Have you carved out time in your busy schedule to actually make contact with the earth? If you don't have a home garden, or the time to start one, consider simply playing outdoors with your kids. Take your shoes and socks off and get a little dirty, as you now know - it's good for you.