Hiking The Therapy Trail Where Life and Work Meet

How more time outdoors could be the secret to happiness – and the sense of belonging that we all crave

Laurence McCahill
Jun 25 · 5 min read

“If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I’ll bet they’d live a lot differently.” Bill Watterson

In her 2017 book The Nature Fix, Florence Williams takes us around the world visiting the places where nature is being used effectively in health treatments and where the future might be in living a nature-full life.

Her inspiration for the book was a trip to Japan in 2012:

“I was sent to write about forest bathing, or shinrin yoku. The forest agency there has been promoting it since the 1980s as a way for people to reduce stress. It essentially involves hanging out in the woods, on ‘therapy trails’, drinking in the environment through all five senses. And researchers have been busy measuring its effects, including a drop in blood pressure and cortisol stress hormones.”

She goes on to show how conditions like depression and PTSD improve dramatically when sufferers spend time in nature. She also made another unexpected finding:

That experiencing awe expands our sense of time, and makes us behave more generously to one another.

The view from our chalet at Alptitude

It turns out that when you expose yourself to nature in all its wonder, time can feel like its standing still and you fully live in the present.

Being in nature also has a way of creating a level playing field – where we let our guard down, lose any ego and show our true self to each other and the world.

We shed our masks. We open up. We breathe, properly.

And when you do this with others, this adds a whole new dynamic.

Although it can feel a little scary at first, vulnerability is actually a strength.

It’s a trait we value in other people – we warm to those that show their human side – so it’s time we got comfortable with it for ourselves.

Even more so in the business world, where for far too long those we look up to are put on a pedestal, seemingly invincible, even superhuman.

But this is just an illusion – we each have our own challenges and battle scars, some just hide them better than others.

But rather than run away from them – there’s power in facing up to them, accepting the journey we’ve been on and understanding that these experiences are what shapes us and make us authentically human.

And better leaders. Leaders that will be better equipped to address the massive problems our world faces.

“It’s time to stop doing business and start being human.” Kees Klomp

Life in Dream Valley

I’ve just returned from Alptitude – a retreat where 20 purpose-driven founders and leaders gathered for 7 days to knowledge and experiences together in the stunning surroundings of the French Alps – a place appropriately called Dream Valley.

And once again I’ve seen at first hand how nature has a power to heal and connect.

We had an incredibly diverse group – from environmental scientists and tech startup founders, to consciousness coaches and social entrepreneurs. All bound together with a love of nature and a desire to make a positive dent in the world.

During the week we saw how deep connections happen naturally when we let others in and share our hopes, fears and struggles.

This openness leads to a huge level of trust between participants and collective support that is truly special when you see it, most likely because it is so rare in modern life.

“We’re so much more invested in each other when we heal and grow together.” Christina Kisley

Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval, French Alps

A perspective shift

Immersing ourselves in nature at its finest – awe-inspiring mountains, waterfalls and ice-cold lakes – gives us a fresh perspective on what matters. It helps us to get a birds eye view on the problems we all face, and find clarity where before there was but a haze.

Needs cards – great for ice breakers

At Alptitude we put a lot of trust in the group we bring together, and follow a truly emergent process.

It starts off by understanding what brought people there, quickly getting people to share what’s on their mind and what they need help with, and as the week unfolds people have the space and time to get everything they need from one another. And even if they don’t, it lays the foundation for relationships that may last a lifetime.

One recurring theme throughout the week was how to strip back life to its essence so we can live simpler, happier lives and in turn make more conscious choices to make a difference. Changing the world, it seems, can be exhausting. And often counter-productive.

“Simplicity is an achievement. It follows from a hard-won clarity about what matters.” Alain De Botton

A week like this is a great reminder of the power of sharing meaningful experiences with likeminded people in nature. And what we’re capable of when we open our hearts and minds to one another.

Once you’ve experienced this level of connection, there’s no going back.

A note from one of our participants

The Happy Startup School

Build a life and business rich with purpose

Laurence McCahill

Written by

Co-founder The Happy Startup School. Building a global community of heart-shaped entrepreneurs and leaders, one event at a time.

The Happy Startup School

Build a life and business rich with purpose

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade