As people today seek a new normal in our modern world, we find it all too easy to distance ourselves from one another and from the outside world in general. In the long term, this trend can actually be quite harmful. If the dramatic lifestyle changes resulting from quarantines and social distancing in 2020 have proven anything, they have reminded us how much people need to interact with others and be a part of the environment to thrive.
Of course, there are all kinds of environments to consider besides just our surroundings in nature, whether it be outdoors or indoors, or even elements of the outdoors brought inside our homes and offices for our enjoyment. During the pandemic, people were required to hunker down indoors to stay healthy, but now we are going full circle. If going for a walk in the park, a hike in the forest, or cutting through the unbeaten path in the jungle to find a waterfall is calling your name, you are not alone.
Everyone has felt the benefits of being outside and getting fresh air. “Forest bathing,” or immersing oneself in the forest while taking a walk or a hike, for example, is a popular way for people to relax, collect their thoughts, and increase self-awareness. Delving a little deeper, though, endless studies have been done on the topic of the benefits of the environment on people’s health. Let’s take a look.
Discoveries Made About the Benefits of Nature on Your Health
As reported by the online publication Yale Environment 360, published at the Yale School of the Environment, the results of a study including a group of 20,000 individuals led to astonishing discoveries about the benefits of nature on humans. Mathew White of the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter led the study, which revealed that a person needs at least two hours of time spent in green spaces per week to be healthy and develop a strong sense of well-being. These two hours can be spent all at once or in smaller chunks of time throughout the week for someone to reap the full benefits of being in nature.
For more information about the benefits of nature on your health check out this article by Yale Environment 360, published at the Yale School of the Environment.
The studies revealed that spending time in nature can “help lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, reduce nervous system arousal, enhance immune system dysfunction, increase self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and improve mood.” Also discovered through the study was that increased time in the outdoors results in a decrease in Attention Deficit Disorder and aggression.
Traditional Beliefs and the Great Outdoors
It would seem that humanity’s understanding of the importance of the great outdoors is not new after all, as there is even a traditional Japanese religious belief system that revolves around the significance of nature: Shintoism. As explained by the British Broadcasting Company or BBC, “In its purest form, the Shinto faith reveres nature.” As opposed to worshipping human figures as in many other religions, elements from the natural world reign supreme, and “followers draw their deities from nature, worshipping the rocks, trees, wind, and sun.”
Finally, there is a belief in and respect for the mystery that surrounds us while outdoors, and Shinto is a religion that continues to be practiced today in modern Japan. An IATV network article on how to reconnect with nature reads, “Shinto holds that nature has a sense of power and presence that is inescapable and beyond human control or understanding, but sensible in our encounters with it. Its respect to the mystery of nature thus presents to us an alternative way of treating our relationship with nature.”
The Dalai Lama takes dedication to the environment a step further, saying, “We share the Earth with not only with our fellow human beings, but with all other creatures.” Adding more words of wisdom to this train of thought, he also said, “It is our collective and individual responsibility… to preserve and tend to the world in which we all live.” Indeed, if nature truly is so healing and provides for humanity as much as it does in terms of resources such as food, shelter, and peace of mind, then why should we not do all we can to defend it?
It would seem that a greater overall sense of tranquility and peace within ourselves cannot be achieved until the human race comes to a full understanding of the magnificence that is nature and how to best preserve it. The more society strays from nature, the more tormented humanity becomes, and humans clearly are not the only ones who suffer from their mistakes. Let the numerous species of animals that have become extinct or threatened, as well as global warming, be proof of the damage caused by humanity’s lack of respect for our natural world.
In Hawaiian culture, nature is strongly revered, as in Shintoism, and to this day many individuals identify as having an “aumakua” or the Hawaiian version of a spirit animal. The aumakua is special in Hawaii because it is an animal that is considered a guardian to an individual and their family. A person will often look to their aumakua for guidance in times of despair and nee. If they spot their aumakua, they will consider the moment as a means of delivering a spiritual message.
The presence of these special animals in nature is never to be taken lightly, and is often considered a spiritual sign meant to lead someone down the right path in moments where an important decision or action waits to be enacted upon. In other words, Hawaiian culture also fosters a belief which supports the concept that humans can learn and benefit from nature.
Human Evolution and Nature
Greater Good Magazine is a science-based online publication by the University of California Berkeley. GGM proposes a theory by evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson known as “biophilia” which points to evolution as being the reason why people seek experiences within nature. “We may have preferences to be in beautiful, natural spaces because they are resource-rich environments—ones that provide optimal food, shelter, and comfort.”
A significant body of research also asserts that being in nature, living around it, or even viewing it on screens, in paintings, and in photographs can have significant positive impacts on an individual. Simply viewing nature calms a person’s mind and body and positively impacts their feelings, thoughts, and social interactions. Viewing nature can produce a flurry of positive emotions and also helps to calm one’s nervous system.
Visit Greater Good Magazine: Science-Based Insights for a Meaningful Life to learn more about the science behind how nature helps to improve one’s health.
With all of these powerful ideas out there revolving around the environment, why is it that mankind has strayed so far from their roots, and how can they reconnect with nature?
At Home With Nature: Bringing the Outdoors to You
There are many hacks and tools that are readily available for those seeking to increase their exposure to nature in order to enhance their lives. Many people lead busy lives or live in places far removed from the mountains, forests, rivers, beaches, and oceans that can have such lasting impacts on our health. Despite the challenges that some of us must overcome so that we may reconnect with the natural world and take a step further down the path to a happier and healthier self, it truly is not as difficult to do as one may think.
I once had a friend in high school who, when she would get stressed out while studying for an exam, would imagine she was sitting near a calm, cool lake. She would think about how nice the water would feel to dip your feet in, imagine the reflection of the sky and clouds in the lake, and so on. It is like meditation, but rather than emptying your mind to achieve a sense of calm, you are filling it with thoughts of nature instead.
Bring It Home
If you like flowers and other plants, this one is for you. It’s easy to go to the local florist or pick flowers on the way home, or even before running errands or going to work, whatever works with your schedule. Other items work too: leaves, sticks, rocks, seashells, and sand are fun souvenirs that are often just outside your front door and ready to be harvested and cherished at home. Even something as small as a feather can invoke feelings of happiness or inspire you or remind you of the outdoors.
Speaking of harvesting, there are few things as rewarding as growing your own flowers, trees, food, and more. The process of nurturing and caring for a plant is often simple and fun, and it is a wonderful way to bring nature into your home life. Not to mention, if you are growing your own food, it is very good for your health and well-being as well. There are many affordable and easy ways to do this. Simply jump on YouTube or Google and do some research about the seeds or plant starts you want and what sort of soil and planters, for example, you may need to get started.
Paint or Craft Nature-Inspired Works
Creating is relaxing and rewarding in general, and evoking elements of nature definitely increases the positive benefits of any art or craft project. Nature is beautiful, and so no matter what subject you choose, you are bound to be happy with your results.
Next time you feel your shoulders tense, your mind and body feel heavy and are burdened with the complications of life, remember that no matter where you are, you can incorporate nature into your life and increase your own personal well-being and happiness. No one should isolate oneself from the natural world altogether because, in fact, we have all evolved from it. Nature is and always will be our home.