Nature and Wellbeing
The Forgotten Link
Benefits of Nature for Wellbeing
We feel good when we are in nature. Right? This is something most of us can agree on.
But… do we know why?
There are plenty of reasons why nature makes us feel good, ranging from the simplest to the most complex processes that happen in our body when we are outside communing with our surroundings.
One of the most known concepts is the Biophilia Hypothesis. Biophilia means the love for life or living systems. (from bio-, meaning “life” and -philia, meaning “friendly feeling toward”)
The term Biophilia was first coined by Eric Fromm in the 60’s to describe the biological drive towards self-preservation.
In the late 70’s Edward O. Wilson extended its meaning to “the rich, natural pleasure that comes from being surrounded by living organisms”
So the Biophilia hypothesis, is the idea that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and all forms of life. The tendency of humans to focus on and to affiliate with nature and all life-forms has, in part, a genetic basis, according to Wilson. Basically, we are wired to be in nature. We have been living in natural environments for 99.9% of our evolutionary time on the planet.
“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature, it will never fail you.”
Standing on top of a mountain overlooking a valley, standing at the foot of a gigantic tree, witnessing a breathtaking sunrise or sunset, experiencing an encounter with an animal, gazing at a starry night sky.
And so many more.
Can you recall the sensation? It is the sensation of AWE.
Scientifically speaking, the state of awe, an emotion that, psychologists are coming to understand, can have profoundly positive effects on people. It happens when people encounter a vast and unexpected stimulus, something that makes them feel small and forces them to revise their mental models of what’s
possible in the world. In its wake, people act more generously and ethically, think more critically when encountering persuasive stimuli, like arguments or advertisements, and often feel a deeper connection to others and the world in general. Awe prompts people to redirect concern away from the self and toward
Nature is an almost endless source of Awe. About three quarter of people’s awe experiences happen in nature.
“Nature and wellbeing is the forgotten link that can bring much hapiness and joy to your life.”
“Every aspect of Nature reveals a deep mystery and touches our sense of wonder and awe.”
Urbanization and chronic attention fatigue
We have been living in nature for 99.9% of our evolutionary time and this fast move from natural settings where we were in touch with nature to an urban environment, full of concrete and streets, and traffic, created a lot of stress in humans. The change happened very abruptly and this separation from what was our home has a great impact on our health and wellbeing.
According to the UN World Urbanization Project, in 1960, two third of the population worldwide was living in rural areas, while in 2007, the numbers were balanced, meaning that 50% of the population was living in rural areas and 50% in urban settings or cities. It is estimated that by 2050 two thirds of the population will be living in urban areas, that means that in less than 100 years the numbers inverted. From an evolutionary perspective, this is a very fast change.
This abrupt change in our living environment has severe consequences on our health and wellbeing.
In the Urban World, there is a strong drive for success, the competition is fierce. In order to be better than the other, people spend 90% of their time indoors, working long hours and on cognitive highly demanding tasks.
Our brain has a limited capacity and gets tired, the cognitive processes happen in the prefrontal cortex area of the brain. When we never give our brains a break, this part of the brain reaches its capacity and that’s why we have a tendency to loose focus when we work for long hours.
When we are in nature, other areas of the brains activate and the part that is in charge of the cognitive functioning gets to rest. That’s why when we take breaks and go outside into nature, our focus and creativity gets a boost.
“We often forget that WE ARE NATURE. Nature is not something separate from us.
So when we say that we have lost our connection to nature, we’ve lost our connection to ourselves.”
Senses and Embodiment
Our modern lifestyle makes us be in our head most of the time. We worry and we ruminate too much. Because we live in a success driven society, there is an increasingly strong tendency to either be in the past thinking of things that didn’t go well or in the future worrying about things we don’t even know are going to happen. These thought processes keep us away from being present in the moment.
What is the easiest way to be here and now?
Our senses…. What we perceive with our senses is always what is happening in the moment. We can only hear a bird when it is singing in the present, we can only smell a flower while doing it. We can remember or imagine how a bird sounds or a flower smells, but then this becomes a thinking process again.
The senses are our direct gateway to the present moment. Nature is full of sensory stimuli, we only need to slow down enough to become aware of them.
And when we are with our senses paying attention to them, we become embodied. Our thinking processes and our minds are no longer in center stage and we simply notice what is happening in our bodies and thus experience the present moment.
So the senses are closely related to embodiment, and to be present in the now.
“I want all my senses engaged. Let me absorb the world’s variety and uniqueness.”
We have spent so much time in our head, in our cognitive mind, that we have forgotten to sense and to feel, we are disconnected from ourselves, from others and from nature. By slowly going back to our bodies, becoming consciously aware that we have a body and that we have senses and that we can perceive so many things through them, we start remembering our forgotten connection.
We allow ourselves to start sensing again, and through those sensations we connect not only to ourselves but to others and to nature.
Senses amplify our ability to relate and to connect. Connecting and relating to someone or something is not a cognitive process, it is an embodiment process rooted in the senses.
Our separation from nature, others and ourselves, can make us feel depressed and sad, we sense that something is missing and try to fill that void with material goods. Anxiety and Depression are 40% higher in people living in urban settings.
Going back to our senses and from there connecting to the world around us, can make us feel complete and happy.
Connection happens when we are in relationship. Be it in relationship with ourselves, other humans or nature. Relationships are based on reciprocity.
The separation from nature has led us to look at her like something out there, distant, a resource. This further increases our sense of separation. How can we be in relationship with nature like we used to be, how can we remember our place on this Earth, how can we remember that we are a part of everything?
By remembering and recovering the use of our senses, connecting to others, humans and not humans on a sensory level we connect through our bodies, emotions and heart. This strongly impacts our positive affect making us more caring and more supportive to the environment and people around us.
“Life is a reciprocal exchange. To move forward you have to give back.”