Connecting with Nature For A Happier, Sustainable Life!
Connecting with nature
It’s no secret that I love nature. I believe wholeheartedly that being in nature and connecting with it can truly change our outlooks on life, as I’ve seen that happen in myself time and time again. If you’ve been a listener for a while, one of the things that I suggest frequently is to connect with nature to increase your sustainable behaviors. But I haven’t given much more clarity on why it is so essential for you to do this and how to approach it with a more holistic perspective.
Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and researching on just that. I wanted to share a few reasons why incorporating a connection with nature is essential to your journey to sustainable living and how to do that.
the need for connection
Work by Balmford and Cowling states that there is:
A great need for interdisciplinary efforts to tackle perhaps the most pervasive underlying threat of all by reconnecting people and nature…even if all the other building blocks of effective conservation are in place, we will not succeed unless the general public cares, and they are unlikely to care enough if they no longer experience nature directly.
We are witnessing human-induced climate change, and one of the ways to help with this issue is to fix the human-nature disconnect. If you haven’t yet, I suggest you go back to episode 26, “5 Steps to healing our toxic relationship with nature” But one of the points I make is that instead of considering ourselves dominant or separate from nature, we need to view ourselves as part of nature. This is critical to establish the human-environment connection to allow all of us to live happier, healthier, more satisfying lives. We are nature. So when we lose our connection with it, we lose a sense of consciousness. We are losing awareness of how interconnected we are to the earth. We are losing a sense of ourselves.
When we don’t see ourselves as part of nature, we don’t see our dependence on biodiversity thriving, on food systems remaining stable, on our soil, air, and water to stay healthy, or on each other for connection and to continue to make life sustainable on earth.
What is nature?
Work by Buettel and Brook define nature as a sociocultural construct and argue that the definition and view of nature are constantly changing and evolving. But nature, as we will talk about it is broad. It encompasses everything from indoor plants, urban public green spaces, gardens, and roadside vegetation, to nature reserves, agricultural land, and wilderness like our beaches and oceans, rivers, mountains, forests, and national parks.
what is a connection with nature?
Research done by Psychologists in Mexico found that the term nature-relatedness is an excellent way to discuss the connection with nature. They say,
“This encompasses the appreciation and understanding of the interconnection between human beings and other living organisms and is more than love for nature or the enjoyment of its superficial facets: it includes an understanding of the importance of all of nature’s aspects, even those that are not esthetically attractive.”
It’s an awareness of our interconnectedness to nature that withstands all time and situations built by our information of it and experience with it. Full connection with nature is the convergence of mind, body, and willpower to live fully.
There is also a term that has emerged, coined by Richard Louv, called Nature-deficit disorder. It is the idea that human beings, especially children, are becoming disconnected from the natural world. But popular conversations around NDD or disconnection with nature tend to focus on logical approaches or the good old days. You know the ones. Childhood stories of playing outside until the street lights came on, going to swimming holes, fishing, or collecting things in nature. These are all great things, don’t get me wrong, but this narrative can be incomplete and amiss in a few different ways. It isn’t inclusive or accessible, and it usually leads to the rhetoric that technology being the culprit of disassociating us with nature.
The good old days were still not perfect – and shouldn’t be the standard. This kind of thinking on its own also dismisses the cultural, socio-economical, and political differences of the world and how where we are at today has been a long and slow disconnection from nature.
How to start connecting with nature
Work by Elizabeth Dickinson states that instead of the narrative to just go outside in nature, we first need to reflect inward on the “cultural, economic, and political systems that contribute to alienation, notably concerning issues that are missing from Louv’s conversation— poverty, racial segregation, cultural alienation, environmental racism, and rampant overconsumption.”
Our standings in each contribute to our framework of how we see and relate to nature. That reflection inward helps us recognize our beliefs, assumptions, and cultural experiences, and others. It is a starting point.
Dickenson also calls to include emotion in our practice. When we are in nature or teach others to be in nature, it doesn’t need to be solely analytical or logical. We need to break down the notion that caring deeply for nature is a sign of weakness instead of strength and inner knowing. When we are in tune, we can positively attribute our connection with nature to the psychological (and physical) benefits we receive from the connection.
This study is called ecopsychology and focuses on the emotional bonds between humans and the earth. “Ecopsychology explores humans’ psychological interdependence with the rest of nature and the implications for identity, health, and well-being.”
I mentioned earlier that the human-environment (or nature) connection would allow all of us to live happier, healthier, more satisfying lives. So, where does that come from?
Benefits of connecting with nature
We know that connecting with nature increases our overall well-being. There are so many studies that show this in adults and children alike, and if you’ve ever spent time in nature and felt better, you probably can understand why.
Our well-being comprises many factors, including our physical and mental health, spirit or purpose, connection to others, and the environment. It is our overall outlook on life.
I will try to go through some of the proven benefits of connection with nature to give you an idea, but it is not a complete list. (To view this complete list with references click here). The goal isn’t to bore you with everything nature can do. It’s the opposite. It gives you a taste of how powerful our connection to nature can positively impact every aspect of our lives.
Psychologically, nature shows a positive effect on our mental processes and behavior. There have been links to decreased anxiety and depression, stress, and anger, along with increased self-esteem and mood. Connection with nature shows increased creativity, perceived happiness, comfort, and overall improved quality of life.
There is also a positive effect on our general physical health when we connect with nature. For instance, psychological links to decreased anxiety and stress also are related to physical reactions like reduced cortisol levels, reduced blood pressure, and reduced heart rate.
Research has shown that patients in hospitals have better outcomes if they have a window to view nature. We see reduced headaches and pain, faster recovery from illness or trauma, reduced cardiovascular and respiratory disease, and even decreased blood glucose levels and type 2 diabetes.
Social and cultural Benefits
Socially, we see positive effects at the community and national scale with increased social interaction, reduced aggression, enhanced social cohesion, and social support.
There are positive effects on cultural and spiritual wellbeing as well. Showing greater appreciation for the beauty of the earth, increased inspiration, enhanced spiritual well-being, and even increased recreational satisfaction.
Sustainability and nature
And finally, bringing it all back to sustainability – connection with nature leads to increased environmental awareness and sustainable behaviors. Actions like pro-ecological behavior – meaning we practice taking care of the environment. Frugality – taking us away from overconsumption patterns. Altruism – taking us away from the “do whatever we can to make money” mindset and putting us into the mindset of doing what we can to care for others. And equity – making sure we all have the support we need. Each behavior is required from all of us to change our lifestyle and live more sustainably on this planet. Connecting with nature also brings about pro-social behaviors or behaviors that benefit society as a whole.
So the connection with nature enhances sustainable behavior and increases overall wellbeing, which brings about a positive feedback loop of more happiness for the individual, leading to more sustainable behavior and continued wellbeing.
These intangible connections with nature help us shape decisions that benefit ourselves, other people, and the ecosystems we depend on.
time with nature
Research shows that 120 minutes per week, or 2 hours per week, is the minimum needed to start feeling connected with nature, happier and healthier. Any less than that, and it doesn’t work. This doesn’t have to be all at once but can be in long or short intervals. Different benefits come from other types of exposure – but even the slightest bit of nature can allow people to benefit.
There are indirect interactions, such as having a view of nature from your office or home window. Incidental interactions such as seeing nature while doing another task like walking the dog or walking to the store and seeing trees on your way. And intentional interactions such as purposefully seeking out time in nature, spending time in it recreationally, all while being present.
Connectedness with nature is a culmination of mind, body, and spirit. It is learning more about nature and experiencing it through structured, purposeful activities, unstructured creative activities, and serving the social-ecological community or giving back to our society and environment.
To quote Elizabeth Dickenson again,
“When it is time to seek help with(in) nature, it is with a reflexive spirit of co-presence, where one is with and of nature, not in it.”
So to recap, to connect with nature, you need first to reflect inward, which allows you to reflect outward. Consider the issues that cause alienation to nature for some and not for others. Consider how all cultures’ connections with nature will look different because they are situated and informed. Consider how our culture has industrialized and removed nature from many cities and ways we need to support the reintegration of nature back into all spaces, for all people. Try to contemplate this from others’ perspectives and see what discoveries you find.
Then you need to connect to nature with emotion and whenever possible. Emotions like “awe, wonder, gratitude, and reverence,” to name a few. Things that arise typically and naturally when we take time to be present while in nature.
Humans crave nature. We depend on it for our physical and psychological wellbeing, whether we realize it or not.
Until next time, get out there and explore that big beautiful world of ours, neighbor!
Click here for a list of 12 simple ways to connect with nature!