NOV 05, 2017 12:49 PM PST

Science proves spending time in nature makes you happier

Need a pick me up? Go outside. New research from UBC provides even more proof that spending time outside makes us happier. In fact, turns out even just noticing nature can increase your general happiness and well-being!

Ph.D. student Holli-Anne Passmore examined this connection between nature and well-being during a two-week intervention with 395 undergraduate students at UBC’s Okanagan campus. The undergrads were randomly assigned to take note of one of three conditions throughout the intervention: nature, human-built or a business-as-usual control. When a student came upon an object within their focus group during their daily routine, the student would photograph the object and write how it made them feel. For example, Sophia takes notes about flowers and trees, Samuel about the architecture of a building, and Miles does not take notes regarding any topic.

"This wasn't about spending hours outdoors or going for long walks in the wilderness," Passmore says. "This is about the tree at a bus stop in the middle of a city and the positive effect that one tree can have on people."

During the two weeks, Passmore received over 2,500 photos and descriptions of emotions. She noted a correlation between the people who were on the look-out for nature and their emotional well-being. She also saw a connection between their willingness to share resources and the value they placed on community (which she called prosocial orientation in her study).

Step outside! Photo: Danvers Fish and Game Club

"The difference in participants' well-being -- their happiness, sense of elevation, and their level of connectedness to other people, not just nature -- was significantly higher than participants in the group noticing how human-built objects made them feel and the control group."

Though Passmore’s research is by far not the first to suggest that appreciating nature and the great outdoors (or even that tree on the street corner) is beneficial for human health, happiness, and learning (indeed, entire education systems are constructed upon the foundation of the idea), her study goes a step farther. The plausibility that even just noticing the smallest, most insignificant of our natural surroundings can increase our well-being is a great find, for both our daily lives and big-time environmental policy.

Sources: Science Daily, The Journal of Positive Psychology

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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