One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. – William Shakespeare
Connectedness with nature has been associated with greater well-being, but how exactly does connectedness with nature improve well-being?
A new study by Zhang, Howell and Iyer (2014), published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, finds that it is the degree to which people experience positive emotional responses when witnessing nature’s beauty that influences their well-being. Technically, the experience of positive emotions moderates the positive relationship between connectedness and well-being.
In other words, it is not connectedness with nature itself, but how much people see its beauty that influences their well-being. People vary in the degree to which they feel connected with nature.
However, there is reason to believe that connectedness with nature also increases the tendency to see its beauty. Indeed, one study found that people who spent time in an animal park, at a hiking trail, or at a beach, experienced an increase in connectedness with nature (Schultz & Tabanico, 2007).
Nature has been associated with many positive aspects of mental health. Here are some of the many research findings. Nisbet & Zelenski (2011) found that participants who had a walk in the nature, compared to an indoor walk, reported increased positive emotions and decreased negative emotions.
A brain study by Aspinwall and colleagues (2013) found that green spaces led to lower frustration, lower alertness and arousal, and higher meditation and reflection. A panel data study of more than 10,000 participants found that people who live in urban areas with greater green space reported greater life satisfaction and lower mental distress (White et al., 2013).
In general, it seems like people who are connected with nature, compared to their less connected counterparts, are more satisfied with life, report greater happiness/life satisfaction and positive emotions (Zhang et al., 2014).
The authors also emphasize that perceiving nature’s beauty is positively correlated with gratitude and extraversion – both predict subjective well-being.
Nature is a source of happiness, but you must allow yourself to experience positive emotions while you are out there as positive emotions moderate the relationship between connectedness with nature and well-being. But I am sure that you cannot avoid experiencing positive emotions.