New research bolsters the belief that spending time outdoors can contribute to happiness.
In fact, if people simply take time to notice the nature around them, it will increase their general happiness and well-being, said Holli-Anne Passmore, a Ph.D. psychology student at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus.
Her study, published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, examined the connection between taking a moment to look at something from the natural environment and personal well-being.
The study involved a two-week intervention where participants were asked to document how nature they encountered in their daily routine made them feel. They took a photo of an item that caught their attention and jotted down a short note about their feelings in response to it.
Other participants tracked their reactions to human-made objects, took a photo and jotted down their feelings, while a third group did neither.
Examples of nature could be anything not human built: A house plant, a dandelion growing in a crack in a sidewalk, birds, or sun through a window.
“This wasn’t about spending hours outdoors or going for long walks in the wilderness,” Passmore says. “This is about the tree at a bus stop in the middle of a city and the positive effect that one tree can have on people.”
Passmore reports she was “overwhelmed” not only by the response of her 395 study participants, who submitted more than 2,500 photos and descriptions of emotions, but also by the impact that simply noticing emotional responses to nearby nature had on personal well-being.
It also had an impact on their prosocial orientation, which is a willingness to share resources and the value they placed on community, she discovered.
“The difference in participants’ well-being — their happiness, sense of elevation, and their level of connectedness to other people, not just nature — was significantly higher than participants in the group noticing how human-built objects made them feel and the control group,” she said.