Winter is fading, green shoots are pushing up through the earth, and we can already enjoy the beautiful sight of snowdrops and crocuses bursting with colour. Yay! Spring is almost upon us, which seems like the perfect time to write a blog post about the therapeutic value of such things as gardening, rambling across the moors, walking through a forest, or otherwise appreciating the natural world, with its wonderful sounds of babbling brooks, birdsong and breeze rustling through the trees.
New research out this month has offered further evidence that human interaction with nature is a vital ingredient for health and wellbeing. Surprised? Me neither. But wait! Not only that, this fascinating study found that having an emotional connection with nature is four times more likely to make us feel that our lives are worthwhile and have meaning than having a high social status or income level.
The paper, co-ordinated by Natural England and based on five long years of research, concluded that many things we assume are vital for our happiness levels – such as getting a great education, having a professional occupation, earning a good income, and generally feeling respected by society – actually pale in comparison to the sense of deep satisfaction and wellbeing we gain when we choose to make nature a big part of our lives. I do hope I’m not simplifying the research too much here, but to summarise the most mind-boggling findings, this would be the key take-home point: A disconnection to the natural world (let’s call it ‘nature poverty’) could actually cause more harm to your health, happiness and wellbeing than socio-economic (financial) poverty. Wow. Just wow…I feel like something I’ve innately known since childhood has finally been confirmed!
Almost five thousand adults took part in the scientific study, which aimed to draw conclusions between health and wellbeing and our relationship to nature (not only in terms of how much we are immersed in it and whether we live in a green area, but also whether we have an emotional connection to the natural world), and whether this influences behaviours: such as showing an interest in conservation, undertaking voluntary work related to the environment we live in, and/or buying eco-friendly products. Interestingly, researchers found that living in an area with green spaces will not affect your health in a beneficial way in the slightest, unless those green spaces are being used (looking out of the window and admiring the view just doesn’t cut the mustard…in fact, the study found it may even adversely affect your health).
Getting out and enjoying the countryside at least once a week, however, was credited with much higher levels of what scientists call eudaimonic wellbeing. Even watching nature documentaries on TV was credited with inspiring viewers to feel a little more emotionally connected to nature, as well as sparking environmentally-friendly behaviours. Why is that so important? Because feeling a connection to nature could be the one thing that saves it from human destruction, according to other significant research.
Bearing in mind that people living with dif-abilities (wheelchair users in particular) often find it extremely difficult to access Britain’s countryside and immerse themselves in nature at will, what could the findings of this study could mean in the context of disability rights and accessibility to our countryside?
What do you think? Please do share this blog post and comment below!
Note: Thank you to the wonderful work of Prof. Miles Richardson (one of the researchers who led the study) and his blog summarising these findings, which I’m so happy I stumbled upon. It’s worth pointing out that research into nature connectedness has been named by Universities UK as one of the UK’s 100 best breakthroughs for its impact, so if the therapeutic values of nature interest you as much as they do me, I’d recommend you follow Prof. Richardson’s blog.