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Get Dirty, Get Happy: How Dirt Can Boost Your Mood

Many of us grew up in towns where kids were dirty. We used to eat cookies that dropped in the sandbox. We built mud castles, sat in tractor tires, wiped our dirty hands on our faces, our friends, and our pants. We rarely wore shoes. We let the rain gutters pour water onto our heads because rainy days were the best. Hand sanitizer wasn’t a thing. We weren’t raised by wolves, we weren’t savages, we were immunized—we might have only been 5 years old, but we were smart enough then to know that putting our hands in the dirt and not giving two shits about it was good for us and made us happy.

mud poke

Well, science has caught up to prove our inherent childhood genius. Dirt can make you happy. You know what rules most about this? You can ditch that dumb hand sanitizer dongle and just go about your day. These studies suggest that an imbalance of the immune system can lead to depression and that a certain soil bacterium might be the cure. So, basically, get outside, get in the dirt, get happy.

I’m not a doctor, a scientist, or even remotely qualified to give advice on immune system imbalances, so if these resources don’t quite convince you of the validity of dirt-induced joy, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence out there, too. Just ask a dirty kid, a gardener, or a Tough Mudder competitor.

Here are some suggestions in case you’re wondering how to get a lil’ more dirt into your diet.

Gearhead John Gilchrist

Take a face shot

Don’t get pissed off when you’re mountain biking down a soggy trail and your friend’s back tire throws a clump of mud in your face. Instead, smile, take a deep breath and think of it as a different kind of B12 shot.

Get frisky

There’s a saying in Spanish that’s equivocal to “having a roll in the hay.” It’s “Quiero echar un polvo contigo.” Translation: I want to throw dust with you. Friskiness has mood-boosting qualities of its own; imagine how good you’ll feel with the added health bonus of dirt being involved.

Skin your knees


Why is it that we fell down so much as kids? Were we all really that clumsy? I think we just needed to be reminded of the brutal reality that gravity is a force to be reckoned with. Many of us stopped reckoning as we got older, and thus, we got boring. I say, next time you’re on a trail, don’t run like you’re afraid to mess up your hair. Run like you’re a kid again, and biff it—just so you can laugh and get a good dose of dirt.

Dig a hole

Dogs seem to find complete bliss in doing this. I don’t see what’s stopping us humans.

Dig a hole with purpose

If you need a mission for your hole-digging, try finding truffles, worms, or buried treasure. Even if your digging yields no tangible rewards, you’ll still be happy as a clam.

Just eat it


Let the full cast of characters into your hobo dinner or coffee/whiskey mug while camping: dirt, sticks, floaties, and other particles of Earth’s glory. Consider it nature’s multi-vitamin.

Take a dirt bath

Cats do it, and so do chickens. Cats have secret powers of reincarnation, and chickens are related to dinosaurs. I’d like to think that ritually rolling in the dirt gives them their relative competitive edges.

Bite your nails

There may actually be neuroscientific evidence to back up your neuroses—nail biting exposes you to “small amounts of potentially immune-boosting bugs.”

Don’t wash your hands before dinner

‘Nuff said.



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