Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The littlest things make me happy

Early last spring my cousin Mert gave me a Christmas Cactus. I had never had one before, and to be perfectly honest, I'm not the best person to entrust with a houseplant. But I thanked her for it and set it on the sunny tile ledge behind my bath tub. Sometimes when I took a bath, I'd splash a little water on it, but mostly I left it alone.

About a month ago, I noticed that some little pinky-red buds were beginning to appear at the ends of its flat leaves. It looked like this:

Pretty exciting.

Here's what it looks like today:

Very exciting. I get an inordinate amount of happiness from this little flowering plant.

There may be something to this boost in my happiness. Research suggests that having plants around you is a good thing for your health. I heard part of a NPR Diane Rehm interview this week with Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer, known as the “mother of mindfulness.” Langer's  research focuses on the many benefits of purposefully paying attention.

In the interview, Langer recounted one of her mindfulness experiments that involved giving houseplants to nursing home residents. Half the recipients (control group) were told that the staff would tend to their plants; the other half were told that they needed to decide where to place the plant in their room, as well as when and how much to water it. (The intent was to make the nursing home residents more mindful, to help them engage with the world and live their lives more fully.) At the end of the 18-month experiment, the group in charge of their plants was more cheerful, active and alert. And, they were healthier. In fact, if I remember correctly, mortality of the control group was almost twice the mortality of the engaged group.

So, if you are feeling stressed or unhappy, get a plant. You might just feel better – maybe even live longer. And find yourself smiling more, especially if your plant blooms.


  1. Deb - I have my grandmother's Christmas cactus. I remember it always on the dresser in her guest bedroom. It has graced my life since 1985 and has survived two moves and continues to bloom in spite of my misplaced care. Enjoy! It will harken the season in its surprising wonder each year.

  2. Beautiful cactus, Debbie. I'll try this when we get to the upper west side!