Most of us have the habit of trapping ourselves indoors, believing that we will be happy in our protected, reserved, and isolated spaces. Especially in winter, we prefer shopping malls to outdoors. After all, it’s cold and dark outside, right?

We may trick ourselves with such excuses, but many studies show that nature relatedness is strongly connected to our happiness. People who can relate themselves to nature experience a decrease in their negative emotions compared to those who are not engaged in natural activities. Those activities don’t have to be exhausting activities, though. Even walking outdoors or choosing an apartment which faces trees rather than buildings can result in some positive changes.

In one study, Bratman and colleagues tested the idea that just chasing an outside path has more influence on well-being and positive feelings than choosing the inside tunnels of the same campus. I can personally relate to this question, because I realised that almost everyday I tend to choose the paths inside the buildings to go to classes. Having seen the researchers’ question, I wondered whether my habit of avoiding the outside paths has an effect on my mood. Interestingly, researchers considered the fact that people underestimate the positive effects of nature on wellbeing and happiness. Thus, they compared two groups of people: individuals in one group predicted how happy they would be if they walked outside without actually walking, while those in the other group actually walked inside or outside. Researchers found that people tended to assume that nature would increase their happiness and positive emotions while it would decrease negative emotions such as anxiety and rumination. Besides, people who actually walked outside showed an increase in their happiness levels relative to the levels they reported before the study. However, people who made predictions about the nature’s effect, underestimated the positive effects of the nature. This study provided strong evidence for the fact that nature’s positive effects on us are more than we actually expect.

There are other studies showing that if we learn more about the nature, if we merely change the path we walk each day, or if we choose a place to live which faces a green area, we experience changes in our wellbeing and these changes can last up to six months. Considering the scientific evidence for the positive effects of nature, we might want push ourselves a little bit to be more engaged in nature. Changing certain habits are difficult, but not impossible. Even small steps can count.

For further reading:

Bratman, G. N., Hamilton, J. P., Hahn, K. S., Daily, G. C., & Gross, J. J. (2015). Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation. Proceedings of the national academy of sciences112(28), 8567-8572.

Bringslimark, T., Hartig, T., & Patil, G. G. (2009). The psychological benefits of indoor plants: A critical review of the experimental literature. Journal of Environmental Psychology29(4), 422-433.

Capaldi, C. A., Dopko, R. L., & Zelenski, J. M. (2014). The relationship between nature connectedness and happiness: a meta-analysis. Frontiers in psychology5, 976.

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