Why is it important to notice the natural world around us?

If you want to lift your spirits, take a sneak peek at the wildlife and nature lurking in your back yard or street, says research.

Every day our senses process volumes of information from the world around us, shaping the quality of our thoughts and influencing how we feel. Now scientists are exploring the effects on our emotional health.

It’s easy to forget how our connection to the natural world shapes our minds; the spaces, colours, textures, sounds and aromas. Whether it’s a daisy growing between cracks in the pavement, the warmth of the sun, the melodic song of a blackbird or an autumn colour pallet, being curious and reflective about the natural world around us – which we often overlook – can change the day.

Research published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that paying more attention to the natural world in our everyday environment didn’t just boost individual happiness; the effects rippled out to other people as well.

The scientists from the University of British Columbia asked people to take more notice of the natural world in their daily life, snap a photo of what captured their attention and record any emotions associated with what they saw. A second group were asked to do the same but with human-made objects, and a third group did neither.

The people in the study submitted over 2500 photos and emotional responses. After 2-weeks, the nature group felt happier, more connected to other people and the world in general, compared to the group asked to observe human-made objects. The nature group described their experience using words such as; peace, rejuvenation, freedom, awe and hope. It’s also noteworthy that all the people in the study became more aware of how their environment affected their emotions.

If you think the positive benefits of being in nature mean getting in the car and heading to the hills, countryside or coast, this study indicates that’s not necessarily the case.

“ This wasn’t about spending hours outdoors or going for long walks in the countryside”. “This is about the tree at the bus stop in the middle of the city and the positive effect the tree can have on people”, said the study author, Holli-Anne Passmore, in a press statement.

Reference

Holli-Anne Passmore and Mark.D. Holder. Noticing Nature: Individual and social benefits of a two-week intervention. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 2016:12 (6):537 DOI: 10.1080/17439760.20161221.126

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