Looking to improve your overall life satisfaction? Try regularly hiking in a forest or otherwise engaging with the natural environment.
Then, for good measure, look for ways to build your trust in the scientists and policymakers involved in managing the forest where you like to hike.
Those are the findings from new research that demonstrate that a variety of mechanisms for engaging nature significantly contribute to a person’s overall well-being.
One of the most important, according to researchers from Oregon State University, was whether people believed their surrounding environments were being managed well.
“Whether people feel like things are fair and they have a voice in the process of making decisions and whether governance is transparent — those are the foundations of why people even can interact with nature,” said lead author Kelly Biedenweg, Ph.D.,w of Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
For the study, Biedenweg, an assistant professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, and collaborators from Colorado State University and the University of Georgia analyzed results from more than 4,400 respondents to an online survey conducted in the Puget Sound region of Washington state.
The researchers used 13 different metrics to illustrate the relationship between overall life satisfaction and engaging with the natural environment. Among those metrics were community activities, access to wild resources, stress eased by time outdoors, and trust in policymakers.
“Eleven of the 13 had a positive correlation to overall life satisfaction,” said Biedenweg. “The links between ecological conditions, like drinking water and air quality, and objective well-being have been studied quite a bit, but the connection between various aspects of engaging the natural environment and overall subjective well-being have rarely been looked at.”
“We wanted to identify the relative importance of diverse, nature-oriented experiences on a person’s overall life satisfaction assessment and statistically prove the relationship between happiness/life satisfaction and engaging with nature in many different ways,” she explained.
The researchers quantified the relationship between well-being and six common mechanisms by which nature has effects on well-being: Social and cultural events; trust in governance; access to local wild resources; sense of place; outdoor recreation; and psychological benefits from time outdoors.
“Controlling for demographics, all were significantly related to life satisfaction,” Biedenweg said. “The fact that trust in governance was a significant predictor of life satisfaction — in fact, the most statistically significant predictor of the ones we looked at — it was nice to see that come out of the research. The way we manage is the gateway to people being able to get livelihoods and satisfaction from nature.”
The study was published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.
Source: Oregon State University