Whenever we’re stuck on a problem at work. Experiencing a big life change. Or looking for space and time to reflect and unwind. One of the first activities many of us might turn to is a walk outside.
“It helps me feel… “Grounded”, “Calm”, “Peaceful”, “Alive”.
Being outside — in nature — gives us time and space to reflect and unwind.
But what exactly is going on inside our mind and body? What’s the science? How can nature make us happy?
How can rambling through a rose garden, walking along the coast, or wandering through the local park have such a profound effect on us?
Why is nature so important to our happiness?
Our lifestyles often revolve around a life indoors. Screen time is high, time spent outdoors is low, and with mental health issues on the rise, it’s never been more important to explore how nature connectedness can help our health.
Below we untangle some of the reasons why nature is so important to happiness. How it affects our mood, mental health and general wellbeing. And even whether the ‘type’ of nature can influence how much happiness we may gain.
How does nature improve our lives?
One study found that as little as 120 minutes a week is enough to boost our wellbeing and mood.
That's less than 20 minutes a day!
So how does it improve our mood? Nature can bring happiness by…
- Improving our focus
- Reducing negative emotions
- Improving our creativity
- And even making us kinder!
Being outdoors can remind us of our place in nature, and how we’re part of something bigger. And that can bring comfort. But there’s more happening internally too…
The scents, sounds, sights, and touch of nature, and open space, has an affect on our body and mind. From the scent of lavender from a plant pot on a front porch to the sound of birds as you wander through a local park.
How nature reduces negative emotions…
Multiple studies have now found that exposure to nature and green spaces can be linked to a reduction in cortisol — the stress hormone.
Anxiety, rumination and other negative feelings have also been found to be lower in study participants who spent time in nature.
Sunlight can play a big part in this too. A daily dose of sunshine can boost our mood by helping us produce more serotonin — the hormone linked to wellbeing and happiness. It's why during autumn and winter, some people may suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder).
How nature improves our focus…
Heading outdoors when you’re working through a complex problem helps to reset and restore our cognitive attention.
The rhythm of walking and moving and the distraction of different sights, smells etc. (mixed with fresh air!) can help us think clearly and more positively.
The simple act of heading outdoors connects us to fresh air, physical movement, and together they can provide a mental distraction, clearing our mind of the tangle of thoughts we’ve built up and allowing new ‘idea’ pathways to form. Studies have also shown a link to improved memory too!
How nature improves our creativity…
Being exposed to different patterns, colours, textures, weather and so much more are all more likely to inspire ideas. So if you’re stuck on a creative problem, a walk in the park could help you solve it!
How nature makes us kinder…
Spending time in nature can lead to a deeper, spiritual connection to the world — outside of our own world ‘bubble’. Scientists have now tracked more altruistic behaviours from people who are exposed to nature!
New ways to access nature
With the increase in awareness around how important nature connectedness is, it’s lead to new pathways being created for nature connection.
From wilderness therapy, green exercise, forest bathing and even nature retreats like Charlotte Church’s The Dreaming in Wales!
Exposure to nature is now also being prescribed by doctors as well as community projects that aim to provide people with a link to the natural world.
There are community gardening projects to tackle loneliness and wilderness therapy sessions for veterans and others who may have suffered great trauma in their life.
There’s more than happiness and wellbeing at stake too…
A boost in wellbeing and mood (which benefits our overall health) is beneficial to us as individuals. But one undervalued benefit is that being regularly exposed to nature can also influence how likely we are to care about nature itself and how likely we are to protect it.
Related Read | How Nature, Wellbeing and Pro-Environmentalism are Entwined
Studies have found that those of us with a deeper nature connection are more likely to care for and about the environment.
Is a street the same as a forest?
So being in nature can make us kinder, less stressed, and more focused — and simply happier! But can the area affect this?
Another study conducted by Plymouth University, found that the location of nature exposure can determine how beneficial its affects are.
The positive effects of nature connection were more beneficial in ‘wilder’ areas (forests, woods etc) compared to a walk along the local high street. Which illustrates just how important it is for everyone — especially young people — to have access to nature, and why we’re so proud to support the amazing work of Outward Bound UK.
This is why green spaces are now considered crucial when planning new homes and also why connecting young people with nature is such an important mission.