Connect To Nature For Happiness And Health (And How To Do It)!

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Since I was a little kid I’ve always felt a deep connection to nature. My childhood existed against a backdrop of wooded spaces…my brother and I romped around in the woods exploring, creating, playing, and observing. The deep roots and tall branches of trees, birdsongs, the crunch of leaves underfoot, a babbling brook, the sound a stone makes when it ker-plunks into water, sun-ripened raspberries growing on bramble bushes, rustling grass in the breeze, the smell of dry pine needles in the sunlight, squishy damp moss in the rich earth, starlight in the night sky…all dear friends that I’ve spent a lifetime appreciating.

I’ve always known that nature has a profound impact on my well-being…I seek it out when I feel rattled or overwhelmed by the business of life…and I instantly feel tension melt away from my bones the moment I set foot in the forest. When I come back to modern life, after a trail run or hike, I feel more connected to myself and the people around me…I think more clearly, and worries seem less or no longer exist. Plus, I almost always see something interesting and worth marveling at!

I did a little research and found an abundance of scientific literature on the effect nature has on humans and how deeply connected we are to nature. For instance, notice the common thread among these everyday phrases: wise as an owl, sly as a fox, shrinking violet, salt of the earth, fresh as a daisy, over the moon, every cloud has a silver lining, stick in the mud, grass roots, beat around the bush, late bloomer. Nature is relatable to just about everyone so it’s no wonder these phrases have persisted for generations.

People have been writing about their connection to nature forever. One worth noting is John Muir. He was an American naturalist, author, and philosopher who deeply believed in the emotional and intellectual benefits of nature. And his influence helped create Yellowstone in 1872, the first National Park, for the “benefit and enjoyment of the people”. Think about that, National Parks were literally created in order to preserve the natural wonders of our land for pure enjoyment. Other notable writers, artists, and lovers of nature include Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ernest Thompson Seton, Ansel Adams, and Mary Oliver.

Health Benefits

Our innate human tendency to connect to green spaces even has a name…it’s called biophilia.

Studies now show evidence (not surprisingly) that biophilia has profound health benefits! Spending time in nature…even just simply observing nature in our ordinary lives like a bird or ray of sunshine (not necessarily traipsing through the wilderness)…can have a positive impact on our health and wellbeing. Time with nature decreases stress hormones and sharpens performance, focus, and concentration; lowers anxiety and depression; and improves our social connections by invoking feelings of hope, awe, and compassion.

In a two-week study conducted by Holli-Anne Passmore, at the University of British Columbia, students in one group were asked to observe nature during their day and another group was asked to observe human built objects. It was found that the nature group had significantly higher levels of well-being, happiness, and connectedness to others compared to the built object group.

In another study by Danielle Shanahan et al. fewer cases of high blood pressure and depression were found among people who spent an average of just 30 minutes per week visiting green spaces (such as a city park) compared to people who did not visit green spaces. This study also suggests that nature reduces risks of allergies, death from cardiovascular disease, stress and anxiety, and increases levels of physical activity.

There are gobs more studies, from around the globe, that confirm these benefits….nature is good for all the dimensions of our Whole Health!

Ways To Connect With Nature

Here’s a list of ways you can begin connecting with nature. Give a few a try and see what works for you! While you’re out there, try engaging all your sense…really see, feel, hear, and smell what’s around you.

  1. Snap some photos…be on the lookout for pretty/unique/fascinating photo opportunities.

  2. Do you love the beach? Collect and display the stones, shells, and driftwood you find. Collect sand from your favorite beach in a pretty glass jar so you’ll always remember.

  3. Try a 30-day challenge. Journal about your observations and feelings toward nature for 30-days and see how it impacts your wellbeing.

  4. Join a nature group or educational class. The Mass Audubon has lots!

  5. During the workday, take your lunch outside and enjoy the fresh air and scenery.

  6. Find a local park and take a stroll, enjoy a picnic, or read a book.

  7. Take your workout routine outside…no one says you have to workout inside! Grab some friends and your workout gear and get moving in the fresh air. Or run, ride a bike, or hike!

  8. Enjoy your backyard! Take dinner outside and enjoy it on the deck, do your reading outside, spend time enjoying your own space.

  9. Plant a garden.

  10. Plan your next getaway weekend or vaca trip with nature in mind…explore a National Park or wildlife area or other cool feature…marvel at the beauty!

Get Outside!

Here are a few tools to help you search for places to explore in your neck of the woods (that is, if you’re in Massachusetts)! Now is a great time to get outdoors and watch spring unfold before your eyes. 🌱🌷☀️

Massachusetts State Parks

Mass Audubon

The Trustees of Reservations

Botanic Gardens of Massachusetts

Rail-Trails of Massachusetts

Bring Nature Inside

Here are some ways to bring nature into your home or office. Studies show that even photos or nature-themed decor can positively impact health.

  1. Use earthy colors: green, yellow, beige, brown if you love the forest or blue and white if you love the water.

  2. Use earthy textures: wood, stone, grass, slate.

  3. Hang beautiful photographs of nature. Extra points for nature photos you took yourself!

  4. Keep houseplants. Good Housekeeping has a list of 30 Almost Impossible To Kill Houseplants.

  5. Bring in fresh flowers either bought or collected, place them in various containers around the house or office. Trader Joe’s always has a lovely variety of seasonal flowers at cheap prices.

  6. Display your collection of nature treasures: stones, beach sand, shells, feathers…

  7. Diffuse nature-y essential oils like rosemary, lemongrass, cedarwood, sage, balsam, bergamot, rose, or ylang ylang.

  8. Play nature-y sounds (Amazon Prime has a bunch of free nature music to choose from).

References

Mayer, F.S., Frantz, C. M. P., Bruehlman-Senecal, E., & Doliver, K. (2009). Why is nature beneficial? The role of connectedness in nature. Environment and Behavior, 41: 607-643.

Passmore, H. A. & Holder, M. (2016, Aug). Noticing nature: Individual and social benefits of a two-week intervention. The Journal of Positive Psychology, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2016.1221126

Shanahan, D. et al. (2016, June). Health benefits from nature experiences depend on dose. Scientific Reports, 6 (28551). DOI: 10.1038/srep28551

U.S. National Parks - In the beginning. (n.d.). National Geographic. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/national-parks/early-history/

Williams, F. (n.d.). This is your brain on nature. National Geographic. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/01/call-to-wild/

Sarah WalkerComment