It’s no secret that being out in nature can improve your mood — but according to a recent study, we’ve got plenty of reasons to bring nature inside, too: Apparently, having flowers in your home actually reduces your stress levels. The study, which comes from researchers working out of the University of North Florida, has a lot of implications; however, I would argue that the biggest is this: It means that, yes, buying flowers for yourself is an excellent method of exercising self-care.
For what it's worth, it’s not clear whether the study has been peer-reviewed; at this moment, it seems to appear only on the Society of American Florists-run website About Flowers, and it includes no mention of any scientific journal in which it might be slated to appear. That said, though, lead researcher Dr. Erin Largo-Wight has a pretty substantial body of work to her name, her focus being healthy community design. Her 2011 paper with Drs. W. William Chen, Virginia Dodd, and Robert Weiler, “Healthy Workplaces: The Effects of Nature Contact at Work on Employee Stress and Health,” pops up frequently — and, indeed, is somewhat related to the current study: It found that having contact with nature at work makes for healthier, less stressed employees.
For the current study, 170 women participants first responded to the Perceived Stress Questionnaire (PSS), a psychological tool used to measure how stressful we consider certain situations in our lives to be. Several days later, some of them received flowers as a thank you gift; some received another kind of thank you gift (for example, a luxury candle); and some received no gift. Then, at the end of their 12-day participation period, they took the Perceived Stress Questionnaire again.
According to The Kitchn, all of the participants had similar perceived stress levels at the beginning of the study — but at the end of it, only one group saw any statistically significant change: The women who received flowers and subsequently lived with them in their environment for the rest of the participation period saw their perceived stress levels decrease by a whopping 5.5. points. The press release for the study notes that this reduction has “strong statistical significance.” The participants who received flowers also “overwhelmingly reported” that the flowers gave them a boost in their mood.
Here’s why that matters: As Dr. Largo-Wight points out in the press release, there’s already a pretty substantial body of research that shows how our environments affect our health. Now, though, she says, “It is both intuitive and scientifically known that adding elements of nature, like flowers, to interiors promotes well-being.” We know this because it wasn’t receiving a thank you gift that made the difference; it was receiving flowers in particular. The whole thing therefore has larger implications: If receiving flowers and having them exist in our space makes us feel so much more positive and less stressed, then it stands to reason that we might experience a similar reduction in perceived stress if we buy ourselves flowers, too.
Our culture has all sorts of weird ideas around the giving and receiving of flowers, many of which are tied up in rigid expectations about gender. Think about it: How many times have you seen a scene in a movie or TV show where a man arrives to pick up a woman up for a date with a bouquet of flower for her in hand? Lots. You’ve probably seen a fair amount of scenes in which a woman gifts another woman — a friend — a flower arrangement for one reason or another, too: As an expression of sympathy or congratulations, for example. But how many times have you seen a woman gift a man flowers, either in a romantic situation or a platonic friend situation? It’s often limited to special occasions — think boutonnieres at proms or weddings. What’s more, these scenes erase non-binary people from the picture entirely.
But more and more, the idea of buying yourself flowers — not simply waiting for someone else to give them to you — is becoming the norm. It’s offered as advice — as a suggested way to take care of and be kind to yourself. And I think this study supports that suggestions: Flowers aren’t just a reward for “correctly” performing femininity, and we don’t have to look at them as mood-boosting and stress-reducing only if they’re a gift from someone else; we can give ourselves that gift, too.
So, hey. If you’ve been having a rough time lately, go ahead and get yourself some flowers. You deserve it. And you are absolutely worth it.