Even in the smallish beach town where I live, it isn’t unusual to be out and about without at least a few cars ahead on the road. I don’t usually pay a whole lot of attention to traffic since I’m zipping along nicely and listening to the radio, or more frequently these days, reining in random thoughts about resisting and uniting.
But the little mini-van caught my attention for One Big Happy Reason.
Its back end was completely painted with flowers.
Crazy colorful blossoms, too—peonies and roses and crocuses, and one of my very favorites, fat yellow Gerber daisies. Although I didn’t see the driver’s face this time, I’ve noticed the vehicle around our streets, and the person who’s always at its helm. She’s a local farmer named Debbie, and her roadside stand occasionally has the eggs and sunflowers I like. But mostly, her income comes from a floral design company.
I haven’t yet had the occasion to do business with her in this way. But her truck reminded me of how much I have come to need—not merely want—flowers in my daily life.
Probably because my parents worked with an insanely tight budget, there weren’t any store bought blooms hanging around in vases during my childhood. We did have a struggling lilac bush and pussy willow plant in our big back yard, and white azaleas and pink poppies that bloomed in spring and summer. However, those branches and blossoms rarely made it into the house.
Making do on an even smaller stipend in college, there weren’t flowers here either.
But then, after I moved to New York City, my relationship with flora took a dramatic turn.
For one thing, flowers here were, literally, in your face. There were (and are) vibrant stands
on nearly every corner.
Also, these buds were cheap: for a few dollars, or often less, one or two could be all yours.
This meant that even when my roommate and I only had change for a carnation or two (like so many who move to New York, we were poor: Cool Whip containers were our dishes and sleeping bags were our beds), we always had at least one stem in water. And while we didn’t know exactly why, they always made our empty space feel better. However, we did come up with a theory: flowers sold well because they made millions of dismal apartments like ours a little more livable.
By the time I returned to California four years later, I had enough dough to buy bunches and bunches of carnations every week at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market. But I don’t remember having many flowers around when my daughter was tiny; there was just so much to do, not to mention that roaming toddlers, glass vases and cold water aren’t a good mix.
Where I live now is awash in farmland of all kinds; in fact, when I first moved here, one nearby field was a blanket of marmalade colored marigolds for months at a time. I’d sigh with pleasure when I drove by, knowing how blessed I was to call this home. There are lots of farmers’ markets around, too, and they all have flowers. And of course, there’s our nearby supermarket, where I recently scored a handful of lemony daffodils.
As it turns out, flowers make most people feel good.
To clarify, I’m not thinking of the extraordinary medicinal power of flowers—that subject could easily be another essay.
Instead, I’m thinking of the positive way a simple bouquet sways our emotions.
Indeed, a blogger affiliated with a florist in Corvallis, Oregon, reports that flowers make us feel right because they connect us to nature. Consequently, being in this happy place makes us less reactive to the stresses of the fast-paced environments most of us operate in. The article also states that flowers’ beautiful colors help reduce anxiety and apprehension—making us feel more grounded, more cheerful, and more inclined to connect with those around us.
A 2005 study at the Human Emotions Lab (now, there’s a place to visit) at Rutgers University went a few steps further.
In a double-blind study, facial expressions of research participants were measured when presented with three different gifts: a decorative candle, a fruit basket and a flower bouquet. In every case, recipients responded to the flowers with what’s called a Duchenne smile—a heartfelt, “true” smile involving the mouths, cheeks and eyes. None of the other offerings produced this across-the-board response. This was also not the expected conclusion; in fact, the expert who created and administered the study had never before seen a 100 percent response rate with any other test.
But of course, we don’t really need science to tell us how flowers make most of us feel inside.
So, next time you see a bunch of pretty blossoms calling your name, buy them.
They’ll do way more than make you smile. They’ll also do your heart, and your mind, a whole lot of good.
What’s your favorite flower, and what’s the story behind that? As always, I welcome your comments!