Is spending time in nature the key to a healthier, more fulfilling life?

Spending time in nature can be the most rich and rewarding experience, and I would be hard pressed to find a single person who’d disagree.  There is something truly magical in being surrounded by wilderness and connecting with the primal, fuss free side of life.  I know from looking back at my own experiences, there wasn’t a single dilemma a walk in the park couldn’t tackle and I never felt more invigorated and truly alive then after spending a day outdoors. 

Why does nature have such a healing effect? For one, it’s a natural de-stressor and a teacher of patience.  Tuning into nature has the tendency to put the little daily hassles into perspective as it highlights how little we need to be happy and how beautiful our planet can be.  It can also have a meditative effect; undertaking a simple activity such as a walk through the woods will be a feast for the senses we don’t regularly experience.  The sounds of the birds singing in the distance, the chirps of the insects nearby, the fresh mossy smells, the deep and vivid colors, and the texture of the ground beneath to name a few.  Being in nature is also a literal breath of fresh air and this is perhaps the most direct benefit of all.  The rare opportunity to breathe in the cleanest possible oxygen away from the fumes of the city streets.  It’s sure to detoxify and reinvigorate the whole body.

Being connected to nature and “experiencing oneness” with that environment also has the potential to tackle the big life question of the meaning of life.  I recently came across an article in the Journal of Happiness Studies which found that wellbeing and nature connectedness are mediated by believing in the higher purpose of life[i].   The authors wrote: “ It may be that those who are highly nature connected drive a sense of meaningful existence from their closeness with nature, and this in turn boosts their well-being”. Having a meaning in life is important because in addition to connecting us to the bigger picture it’s also been shown through empirical research to positively correlate with our well-being, life satisfaction and increased experience of positive emotions to name a few.

It’s often been said that the simplest things tend to make the most positive difference in our lives and so here is perhaps the easiest intervention of all to consider. Just making a conscious effort to spend more time outside; going for lunch in the park, arranging a weekend hike in a nearby national park, or walking home on the longer more scenic route are just a few ideas. Living in an urban environment makes getting out more challenging but spending an entire day outdoors should not be reserved just for the annual holiday considering the heap of positivity it can bring along.

[i] Howell, A. J., Passmore, H. A., & Buro, K. (2013). Meaning in nature: meaning in life as a mediator of the relationship between nature connectedness and well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14(6), 1681-1696.