5 ways nature boosts happiness, according to science
These studies prove that a dose of nature does wonders for wellbeing.
Anyone who has ever stepped foot in the forest or dipped a toe in a lake likely knows this, but nature is a happy-maker. With its fresh air and soothing appeal to all the senses, it is a sly mesmerist who can erase stress and instill wellbeing in a manner of minutes. Maybe you’ve gathered this on your own, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to get it. But if you’ve felt these salubrious effects, you are not alone. In fact, there is loads of research revealing that nature has profound effects on our mental states. Here are just a few of the studies confirming that nature makes us happy!
1. Take a “forest bath”
The Japanese have a custom of taking a break for a walk in the woods. Called Shinrin-yoku – or forest bathing – the practice is proven to have a positive effect on health. One study on forest bathing revealed that forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do urban climes. Scientists think that the good stuff partly comes from breathing phytoncides like α-pinene and limonene, which are antimicrobial volatile organic compounds emitted from trees. Like I've said before, trees are social beings and now we know they also make us happy.
2. If you’re a city dweller, live in a lush neighborhood
And by that I don’t mean one with a high rate of tipplers. Rather, a neighborhood that boasts greenery. A long-term study by the University of Exeter revealed that people living in urban areas with greater amounts of green space were happier than those who didn’t. In fact, the wellbeing boost associated with green space is equivalent to one-third the jump in wellbeing people get from being married and to one-tenth of the extra life satisfaction derived from being employed versus jobless. If you are domestically entrenched in a not-so-verdant neighborhood this is not such an easy fix, but if you're looking to move, it's something to keep in mind.
3. Take a walk in a park
Researchers in Scotland used portable EEGs to monitor the brain activity of study participants who strolled through different urban environments in Edinburgh. When they walked through the busy urban areas, their brain wave patterns consistently showed that they were more aroused and frustrated than when they walked through the parkland, where brain-wave readings became more meditative, notes the New York Times.
4. Take a five-minute nature break
A study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found that just a few minutes of nature could improve self-esteem, which has a strong correlation with wellbeing. The researchers analysed data from 10 separate studies and looked at nature activities such as walking, gardening, cycling, fishing, boating, horse-riding and farming . The largest positive effect on self-esteem came from a five-minute dose, they concluded. "For the first time in the scientific literature, we have been able to show dose-response relationships for the positive effects of nature on human mental health," said University of Essex researcher Jules Pretty.
5. Smell some flowers
Most of us have a positive response to the smell of pleasant flowers – and because of that, a lot of research has been conducted on how floral scents can influence behaviors. In one set of experiments, scientists discovered that a floral-scented room led to a boost in happiness and friendliness. One researcher noted that the floral smell is an emotion manipulator and improves the mood. "The floral odors can make you happy; floral odors promote social interaction, social approach kinds of behaviors," said Jeannette Haviland-Jones, of Rutgers University. (I know for a fact: it's futile to resist happiness when surrounded by the heady fragrance of a jasmine bush in bloom or a shrub bursting with lavender!)
Read more: 8 unexpected habits of happy people
So go out and commune with some trees for a few minutes ... but in the meantime if you're in need of some armchair nature, here you go: This is what you could see if you backpacked 200 miles in Yosemite National Park (videos). To your happiness!