Want to get happy? Try taking a walk.
Most days, my dog, Marlo, and I take a short walk around the neighborhood. We head out just about the time the sun rests in that special slot in the sky- the place where the trees light up and the world seems to shimmer just a little more than it did before. I pull on some shoes, shield my eyes, and let that lovely, stubborn dog pull me down the street. She will pull and tug until she understands that our collaboration is far better (and less exhausting) than our struggle. (A metaphor for life, perhaps?) We generally walk one of three routes and, some days, I even let her choose which one it will be. Yesterday we walked my favorite, if only because it takes us past the most wonderfully lived-in home where jazz music is always playing and the neighborhood kids are always laughing.
I’m a big believer in taking walks, and not just the put-on-your-running-tights-and-tennis-shoes-and-pretend-to-run kind of walks. I’m a believer in the daily stroll — the kind that allows you to intentionally explore the world around you. I believe in taking the time to notice the slightest changes in the leaves or the cosmetic shifts happening to the home being restored down the street. I believe in waving to the older gentleman who always walks his dog at the same time of day as you and stopping to wish him a very good evening. I believe in not having anywhere to be — at least for a little while — and in stopping to take a picture or two. You’d be surprised by how much life happens in the amount of time it takes to huff it a few blocks.
I grew up taking walks. My family went on frequent walks together. My friends and I would go on “hikes” and try to see what new things we could discover in the same old trees and same old sidewalk cracks that we were accustomed to. Depending on where my family lived, I often walked to school, and have distinct memories of formulating elaborate schemes and stories in my head in the amount of time it took for me to reach my destination. In college, my friends and I would roam around campus for hours, often times in the middle of the night, just for the adventure of it. When I adopted Marlo, daily walks became part of the deal. And I loved it. I loved the excuse to stroll around the neighborhood in the early evening and let my imagination run wild.
Someone once told me, “If life begins to feel difficult, take a walk. You’ll feel better by the time you’ve rounded the corner towards home.” The exercise is helpful, of course. But more than that, I believe it’s the vantage point. These daily walks act as medicine, a meditation of sorts, and they allow me to create my own kind of therapeutic time-lapse. I’m only able to take in the world as slowly or quickly as my body (and Marlo) allows. There is more time for the details and even more space for my thoughts and creativity. I’m allowed to take note of all that has changed and all that has stayed the same, and rest in how much beauty resides in all that is ordinary. For many of us, it takes a whole lot of effort to do that kind of simple work. But I’m willing to try.
So, tonight, when I get home, I’ll put on my comfortable shoes and grab the leash. Marlo will get excited because she knows an adventure is about to be had. She’ll pull me down the street and I’ll do my best to take note of how the sunlight hits the cement and how the smell of fresh laundry, most likely from the neighbors’ house, is still hanging heavy in the air. I’ll take a deep breath, push aside the stress from the day, and do the simple work of focusing on the present. I’ll wave to the older gentleman, dodge the bicycle commuters, and enjoy the journey. And then we’ll probably take the long route, just because we can.