Purpose, meaning and social contact. The Beer and Peanuts point of view says that everyone needs to have these three elements in their lives in order to be satisfied. When we are working or raising children, the work provides something to do every day, people to interact with, and a feeling of significance. But when we stop going to work everyday, nothing will spontaneously provide for these needs. Meaning comes from recognition, exchange of value, and stewardship.
I am writing this in April 2015. Michigan and much of the eastern part of the country had a brutally cold winter. Boston received over 100 inches of snow. In Kalamazoo, we had the coldest February on record. Meanwhile, the same shifted gulf stream that buried Boston caused western states to get very little snow. California’s governor Brown issued mandatory 25% reduction in water usage. As they say, things are tough all over.
And yet, spring has come. Spring means lots of things including longer days, baseball, budding plants, baseball, high school proms and baseball. Especially for northerners emerging from their winter cocoons, spring also means gardening season! People are starting to work on their lawns; pushing down molehills, repairing damage from snow plows, putting down crabgrass preventer. They are visiting nurseries and picking out flats of annuals to put in the flowerbeds: petunias, geraniums, baby’s breath, marigolds and phlox. Bags (or cubic yards) of mulch and shredded bark are being spread with wheelbarrows and rakes. Vegetable gardens are being tilled and amendments worked into the soil in preparation for corn, melons, carrots, beans, peas, lettuce and zucchini.
Working on gardens and yards is such a hopeful activity. A couple years ago I received a mailing from the county soil conservation district. Each spring they sell plants and trees to help prevent wind and water erosion. I ordered three honeycrisp apple trees. The saplings were about an inch in diameter at the ground. They stood about 5 feet tall. To protect them, I bought cages that surrounded the trunk up to about 30 inches above the ground. I bought special organic spray that repelled rabbits and deer. My kids helped me water the trees a couple times each week. And we were rewarded with nice growth! All three of the trees added twigs and leaves and gained about a foot in height that summer.
The following winter was very cold and snowy. The snow was so deep that my 10 year old son couldn’t shovel snow after January because the piles on either side of the driveway were taller than him! The depth of snow prevented many animals from finding food. It also piled up higher than the protective cages on my apple trees. Rabbits got hungry and found they could reach the nice tender new growth on the trees. They ate every square millimeter of bark from about three feet to five feet above the ground and killed all my trees. In the spring, they were just dry naked sticks. My youngest kid epitomized the hope we feel in the spring when he said, “We can just buy more apple trees, dad!” While I appreciate his perseverance, I decided not to feed the rabbits $100 worth of trees every winter.
Gardening is a form of what we call stewardship: caring for other living things. Some people like animals, some like to help their parents or grandchildren. Some people like to take care of a yard, garden or plants. There are several benefits of gardening:
-There are health benefits from being outside and the exercise that comes with hauling, pushing, hoeing, trimming, walking and getting up and down. Webmd says that gardening can burn 200 to 400 calories per hour.
-In addition to the potential boost of physical health, gardening may help our psychological health. There is just something special about how you feel when you restore an overgrown flower bed to a civilized state. The feeling of accomplishment is really important and makes you believe in yourself. When you get something done that looks good, it is a reminder to yourself that you have talents and abilities. You believe that you are a person who has influence, ideas, and takes responsibility.
-Making a yard or garden look good also can elicit favorable responses from friends and neighbors. Its not that we necessarily do the work for the compliments. But hearing praise from other people is a positive side effect of the hard work.
I want everyone to have a meaningful life after you stop working. Taking care of other living things is an integral part of creating meaning. Gardening is a great way to take care of yourself, burn some calories, and feel good about yourself. Just try not to feed the rabbits with your plants and trees!