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. So, the saying ‘I cant see the forest for the trees’ might apply here. What do we pay attention to while being in the nature? Do we pay attention to the internal or the external word? Try to go for a walk and shift your attention between the two just to see what happens.
It is not time spent in nature in itself that predicts well-being, but how much people pay attention to nature’s beauty. However, time spent in nature also seems to increase the tendency to see its beauty. One study found that people who spent time in an animal park, at a hiking trail, or at a beach, experienced an increase in feelings of 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 went for a walk in the nature, compared to an indoor walk, reported an increase in positive emotions and a decrease in negative emotions afterwards.
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.
Another 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.
Taken together, nature seems to be increase well-being, as long as we pay attention to our sorroundings, and for this reason, we might want to spend more time in it and pay more attention to it.