In ancient Egypt, blue lotuses were arranged in flared vases to decorate a banquet table. The ancient Greeks and Romans cultivated and introduced non-native flowers, like roses, to wear as wreaths and garlands. At Hadrian’s Villa near Rome, a mosaic dating from the early 2nd century depicts an arrangement of mixed cut flowers. Archaeologists have found pollen and flower impressions at graves dated to 11,700 years ago. Flowers have been used in decoration, courtship and burial throughout the ages. People have been drawn to flowers since 2500 B.C., but now there is scientific proof that they actually do have a positive impact on our emotional well-being.
In a study created by researchers at Rutgers University, experimenters presented participants with one of three gifts: a candle, a fruit basket or a floral bouquet. The study found that every single one of the people who received flowers responded with a true, heartfelt smile – a smile that lit up their entire face. The candle and fruit did not elicit the same response. Beyond that, the flower recipients reported feeling happier than the other participants even three days after the flowers had been delivered.
The researchers were so intrigued by their results that they performed two more studies to confirm link between flowers and positive feelings. Experimenters spent time in a library elevator handing out pens, flowers or nothing to unknowing participants while cameras tracked the way people reacted to receiving the gifts. The people who received a flower smiled more, moved closer to the person presenting the flower, and were more likely to engage in conversation. People did not have the same positive reaction to receiving a pen.
After proving that people reacted positively to receiving flowers, the researchers wanted to show that it wasn’t just an initial reaction. They thought that flowers could make people happier even over time. After all, why else would people keep them in vases? For this study, 113 participants were given flowers at different times during a two-week period. Some received flowers at the beginning, some received flowers in the middle of the study, and some people received flowers only after the two-week period had ended. All participants tracked their mood and social interactions during the study. People who received flowers had lower depression scores over the two-week study than those who did not receive flowers.
Beyond the results, though, experimenters couldn’t help but notice the excited reactions they received during the study. The people who delivered flowers received hugs and kisses from participants. They were invited to participants homes and received thank you notes after the study. Some people sent pictures of the flowers. The florists who provided the flowers told the researchers that those reactions were common. It turns out that people do love receiving flowers.
It’s not clear exactly why people have such a positive reaction to flowers, but there are plenty of theories. It may be a socialized behavior; giving someone flowers usually signifies that you care about that person. Or our love of flowers could be evolutionary. Some scientists theorize that our ancestors were attracted to flowers because they signified that fruit might soon appear. Others argue that the colors, symmetry or scent of flowers is what makes them so attractive to humans. Colors can have an effect on mood, and traditionally different colors of flowers have represented different emotions. Some people even hypothesize that flowers give of chemicals that attract humans just like they do for insects and animals.
We may never know exactly why flowers have such a positive effect on our well-being, but we do know that they can make our lives better. Flowers can lower depression, draw people closer and brighten someone’s day. If nothing else, this should be reason enough to pick up a flower bouquet next time you’re out shopping, whether it’s for yourself or someone you love.