I had lots of exposure to The Outdoors, much of it on school trips, much of it involved being an unfit kid having to keep up with a group of fitter kids or grownups, and one or two grownups who'd subtly chide me for not trying hard enough. I was in fact pushing my body through substantial fatigue.
Then after college I decided that I was a grownup and no one could make me go see nature if I didn't want to. I was a city boy and that was it. No trees or hills or dirt or bugs or lakes or anything. Just cities and bookstores and coffee shops and offices and apartments and museums and restaurants and subways. (One note of discord I might could have noticed earlier - I was always pretty happy when visiting California, to see the hills and trees and stuff, or whenever I was somewhere I could see mountains.)
Meanwhile I was lifting, and hard physical activities like light hiking were getting easier relative to my ability.
Then one weekend I was visiting family back in Stamford, CT, and my friend Sam wanted to go hang out in the Mianus River Gorge (basically a hilly rocky forest). I figured it wasn't likely to be all that much worse than a coffee shop, and the important thing was to get to talk to my friend.
To my surprise I turned out to somewhat enjoy the setting. I wasn't actively enjoying it in the sense of a subjective experience of enjoyment - but my mood and focus were subtly better there, than somewhere with lots of attentional draws, other noisy people and cars, roads I couldn't wander into, limited space I could occupy, etc.
So when I went on my big Pacific Northwest vacation with my partner Maxine, I decided to try voluntarily doing a bit of outdoorsy stuff, on my own initiative. Not a lot, but one or two days where the main event was somewhere with trees and stuff. It wasn't intensely fun, but it was mildly nice, like hanging out in a nice courtyard. We even went hiking with a few local friends in Portland - the dreaded group to keep up with - and I found myself doing fine.
I think three things happened to produce this change:
- I acquired component skills and abilities, such as strength, which made outdoorsy stuff easier.
- I had more control over my experiences, which meant I could - and expected to be able to - stop at any time if I didn't like them.
- I had previously been far above my "set point" for outdoorsy experiences. I suspect that there's some optimal range of values for the proportion of my life I spend enjoying outdoors in wild areas full of growing things, and doing that mainly feels good when I'm below that set point.