The Real Power of Flowers

In the early days of 2003, as I was preparing for my doctoral exams, I began to think about several classmates who had become really sick in the semester they took their exams. Determined not to follow them, I picked up a copy of Dr. Andrew Weil’s book 8 Weeks to Optimum Health with the goal of boosting my immune system. The program breaks the journey down into manageable increments, adding lifestyle adjustments each week. In the first week’s “projects” under the heading “Mental/Spiritual,” Weil writes, “Buy some flowers to keep in your home, where you can enjoy them” (49).[1]

I remember taking it on blind faith that I should follow the guidance exactly, and besides, that admonition felt like a gift. At the end of the chapter, Weil restates his call for flowers and follows it with “I do not think much commentary is required. Flowers manifest the beauty and wonder of nature and delight the senses. It feels good to be around them. They raise our spirits” (65).

It was a bit odd for me simply to accept his remarks without doing any research myself. I am the perpetual skeptic. As soon as I am told something new, I have to track down verifiable sources. My curiosity finally got the better of me recently, and I tracked down an article by a team of researchers who investigated the emotional benefits of flowers.[2] It’s a really interesting study to read, but there are some important points that stood out to me.

Dr. Jeannette Haviland-Jones and her colleagues conducted a number of tests to observe both the immediate and the longer-term effects of flowers on emotion. In one test, they presented their subjects either with bouquets of flowers or with other positive stimuli that the participants had rated as equal to flowers. Each of the gifts produced a specific kind of smile (considered the most honest smile), but the bouquets of flowers produced that smile in 100% of the recipients, whereas the other gifts were less successful. In addition, the flowers had a more sustained emotional boost for the recipients than the other gifts. The researchers concluded that was because the recipients placed their flowers in areas of the home where they would see them regularly. The other gifts ended up in less frequented spaces in the home.

In another study, they focused solely on senior retirees. They wanted to see if flowers could change negative moods or depression, both of which have a damaging effect on how much we interact with others and on our memory (117). They broke their study participants into groups of those who received one bouquet, those who received two, and those who received none. Those who received bouquets were, in fact, happier than those who did not. I expected that. And giving some participants more than one bouquet in a month compounded their happiness. The most remarkable impact, though, was that the bouquet recipients experienced significant memory improvement. That, in my mind, suggests that flowers affect us in deeper ways than we realize.

Maybe that explains why my own, unscientific study went so well all those years ago. I didn’t get sick. In fact, I thrived. I lost 20 pounds. I passed my exams with the proverbial flying colors. I felt calm, confident, and downright happy. It surely wasn’t simply a result of buying flowers, but I know they played a significant role. Now I have some research to back it up. The emotional benefits are just one reason why I love growing flowers and sharing them with others.

[1] Weil, Andrew. 8 Weeks to Optimum Health. Ballentine, 2007.

[2] Haviland-Jones, Jeannette, et al. “An Environmental Approach to Positive Emotion: Flowers.” Evolutionary Psychology, 2005, 3, 104-32.

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