From forest bathing to Thoreau, from your friends who practically live at REI and even this site, you’ve probably heard a lot about the benefits of nature for your well-being. But why is nature important to happiness?
In honor of Earth Day, let’s dig into the answers, according to science, and talk about a few ways you can get your nature time, even with your busy schedule. And trust us, you don’t need to spend days in the woods to get the benefits. Even 15 minutes in a park can make you happier.
Why is Nature Important to Your Happiness?
Read on to find out the importance of nature to your happiness and well-being and some easy ways to enjoy the benefits.
1. Connecting with nature boosts your mood
So why is nature important? Well, first off, connecting with it increases feelings of happiness pretty much across the board. Feeling connected to anything outside yourself — whether it’s your family or a cause that matters to you — can help you feel happier. But research suggests that feeling connected to nature can make people happier whether or not they have these other connections.
Can’t spend every waking moment outdoors? The good news is — you don’t have to. Even a small amount of interaction with nature can help you build that connection. For example, noticing a few good things in the natural world (even the tree outside your window) each day can help you feel more connected to nature and make you happier.
2. Being outdoors relieves stress and anxiety
Research has found that spending time in nature can relieve stress and anxiety. While walking in a less-urban green space has the greatest effects, the good news is that even a quick walk through a city park can relieve stress. As a bonus, some research even suggests that getting outside benefits your memory and other cognitive skills.
Walking through nature — specifically a forest — can reduce tension and anger. It also can help lower your heart rate, which in turn can make you calmer.
3. Spending time in nature as a child leads to lifelong benefits
Getting out in nature is good for everyone, but starting young can have benefits as you grow into adulthood.
Research suggests that growing up with exposure to green space is associated with a lower risk of mental health issues in adulthood. So if you have kids (or just know some young people), now is a great time to take them outside. You’ll both get the benefits now, and they’ll get the benefits as they grow up too.
4. Getting outside starts a happy cycle
It works like this: People who spend more time in green spaces are more likely to feel strongly connected to the natural world. And when people feel connected to nature, they spend even more time in it. This leads to a cycle of connectedness and time in nature, which brings even more health benefits.
In addition, spending more time in nature leads to more pro-environmental behaviors, according to research. This means that people who spend time outdoors are more likely to take action to ensure nature can thrive, which means more people can reap the benefits of spending time outdoors. Talk about a positive spiral.
5. Just having nature around you has benefits
Spending time outdoors is an easy way to boost your happiness. But it also turns out that just having green space around you can help make you happier.
New research suggests that people who live in states that spend more on “public goods” — which includes, you guessed it, green space — are happier than people who live in states that don’t. What’s more? That green space often involves public parks, which not make you happier because of nature but also help build community and increase property values. And both of those things also make people happier.
In other words, green space brings about a lot of benefits both personally and communally.
How to Get Outside if You Live in a City and Have No Time
So now that we’ve answered the question why is nature important to your happiness, the next logical step is to make sure to get outside. And okay, maybe doing that is obvious to you. You just, you know, get out there. But for many of us — especially the city-dwellers — getting outside can be hard.
We might be too busy, not have a lot of access to outdoor spaces, or just have a hard time making it a priority. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to get those happy benefits of nature, no matter where you live or how much time you have. Here are just a few.
1. Lunchtime walks
This can be hard if you work in the city, but even taking a quick stroll through a nearby park on your lunch break can be helpful. Even the walk to grab your lunch totally counts.
Remember that even short visits to urban natural areas can relieve stress, which we sort of all need during a busy workday.
2. Discover new parks on weekends
Whether you live in the city, suburbs, or country, there are probably plenty of parks nearby you haven’t explored yet. Take some time on the weekend to explore these new areas. You’ll get all the benefits of nature, and the benefits of breaking out of your usual routine.
Another idea? Replace your usual weekend fitness class with a brisk hike or walk in those new parks. Bust out some pushups, squats, and lunges to add some strength training in the mix. You get bonus points for multitasking your workout with your green time. Win-win.
3. Take the train (or bus or car)
Maybe you’ve already seen all the parks nearby. Then it’s time to go further! If you have a car, then use it to explore nature. If you don’t have a car, you can still find ways to get outdoors by using public transport.
Think beyond just parks too. What lakes, mountains, rivers, apple orchards, or wineries are nearby? As long as you’re outdoors, it counts. Sipping a glass of wine in a vineyard is never a bad idea, right?
4. Have a picnic with friends
You’ll get the benefits of nature whether you’re alone or with other people, but aren’t most things better with friends? Pack up a picnic and head into a park or into the woods to hang out and eat. Bring a frisbee or football to toss around or rent some kayaks to get a new perspective.
Whatever you do, don’t forget to leave the area as clean (or cleaner than) you found it.
5. Read a book outdoors
Why not learn something new or get into a great story while enjoying nature? Instead of sitting inside, take a book or magazine and head outdoors to enjoy some sunshine and a good read. As a bonus, research shows that reading also improves your well-being, so reading outside gives you a double benefit.
To sum it all up…
So why is nature important to your happiness? Because it connects you to the outside world, gets you away from artificial light and sound, reduces stress and anxiety, and so much more. And all you have to do to get those benefits is step outside.
Whatever you do, whether it’s going to a park, taking a lunch walk, or reading a book, just get out there. The world is waiting for you, and spoiler: it’s not the one on your phone. Happy Earth Day! Now go celebrate the beauty and joy of this phenomenal planet.
Your turn: Why is nature important to you? Tell us in the comments.
For more ways to get happier, check out this post on building your best relationships.
Author: Erica Hersh
Erica Hersh is a health writer, editor, and communications strategist based in Boston, MA. In 2014, she fulfilled her lifelong dream of being on Jeopardy. She did not, however, fulfill her dream of winning on Jeopardy.