Nature’s Magic: A Healthier, Happier, Kinder, and More Creative You

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” (Albert Einstein)

Attribution: Donna CameronHow much time do you spend in nature, or if not physically in it, somewhere where you can see and appreciate it?

On the whole, we’re spending less time outdoors and more time on our couches and at our desks, glued to screens—big screens, little screens, in-between screens. As with so many trends we’re seeing, this is not healthy. It has resulted in what writer Richard Louv calls “nature deficit disorder.” According to Louv, the term describes the “human costs of alienation from nature: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses, a rising rate of myopia, child and adult obesity, Vitamin D deficiency, and other maladies.”

There’s been abundant research in recent years—more than 100 studies—demonstrating the importance of nature to our physical and mental wellbeing: to our stress and anxiety levels, our happiness, energy, and even our prosocial behaviors, such as kindness and generosity.

While some of the studies tout the value of extended time spent in nature, completely disconnected from technology, other studies show the benefit of just a 20-minute walk in a park, or even watching a nature video or looking at pictures of Mother Nature at her best.

Before you say, “I don’t have time,” or “It’s too damn hot to go outside,” think about some of the benefits nature offers us:

Nature helps us be more creative

According to research by David Strayer at the University of Utah, spending time in nature restores our ability to pay attention, think creatively, and problem-solve—skills which tend to become depleted by constant connection to technology. His research showed this to be true whether study subjects take a four-day backpacking trip or merely a brief walk through an arboretum. With regard to the arboretum, the benefits dissolve if the subject engages with a cell phone during the walk.

According to Strayer, “If you’ve been using your brain to multitask—as most of us do most of the day—and then you set that aside and go on a walk, without all of the gadgets, you’ve let the prefrontal cortex recover, and that’s when we see these bursts in creativity, problem-solving, and feelings of wellbeing.”

Nature improves our health and disposition

There have been scads of studies showing that being in nature relaxes us and reduces our stress; it lowers heart rates and improves our mood; it decreases anxiety and alleviates fatigue. Those who spend time in nature are less prone to depression and more resilient.

Fascinating research by Frances Kuo and William Sullivan of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, demonstrated the importance of green spaces in our dense urban environments. Their work dramatically showed that when there were green spaces—parks or areas with trees and grass—in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods and public housing projects, people felt a stronger connection to their neighbors, children had fewer ADHD symptoms, and overall there was significantly less violence or crime than in similar Chicago neighborhoods which lacked the green space.

As we seek answers to urban violence and growing social alienation, the answer may include a few trees, a patch of grass, and maybe a park bench.

Nature makes us kinder and more generous

Studies have also shown that another advantage of connecting with nature is an increase in our willingness to trust, to be generous, and to extend kindness. Experiencing the beauty of nature, according to U.C. Berkeley researchers, increases our positive emotions, most likely by inspiring wonder and awe and giving us a sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. This, they say, leads to prosocial behaviors such as generosity, kindness, and a desire to help. An experiment by Paul Piff at U.C. Irvine, showed that when participants stare up at a grove of tall trees for as little as one minute, they are more inclined to engage in helpful behaviors and have a more ethical approach to moral dilemmas. Nature is powerful!

With all this evidence that we are physically and mentally more healthy when we interact with nature, why, I wonder, don’t we? I suspect it’s a combination of factors: habit, inertia, addiction (to our devices), and lack of awareness to all the benefits we could be accruing.

I decided to write this post in my backyard, rather than at my usual spot at my desk. I can’t say whether I was more creative or inspired than usual, but it was definitely a more relaxed and enjoyable setting. I was scolded by chickadees for sitting a bit closer to the birdbath than they liked, but it didn’t stop them from bathing. A couple of squirrels seemed surprised to see me so early in the morning, but they, too, continued their business despite my presence. Nature made a space for me, and I felt richly welcomed. I won’t swear to it, but I think my coffee tasted better outdoors, too.

With our environment under fire from certain politicians and policy-makers, perhaps each of us needs to increase our exposure to nature’s wonders and add our voices to the call for preserving both wild and urban natural spaces. And perhaps these politicians need to spend less time in stuffy rooms and more time connecting with our precious mountains, forests, and oceans.

Let’s stand with Mother Nature . . . you go, girl!

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” (John Muir)

 

36 thoughts on “Nature’s Magic: A Healthier, Happier, Kinder, and More Creative You

  1. Great post and so timely and relevant for me. For the past several months I have made a concerted effort to watch less TV, specifically CNN. The minute-by-minute accounts of Trump’s craziness became unbearable. I cannot tell you how much happier and more relaxed I am. At the same time I made a pact with myself to walk for at least 1/2 a day, every day. It was challenging to schedule these walks at first, but within a week or so, my days were being scheduled around my walks instead of the other way around. My walks are getting longer and longer and some days I end up going for 2 walks. I have also been craving “nature” and have been thinking about moving from Toronto to Victoria BC so I can live if not on the beach, within walking distance to it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s true, Fransi, nature is probably the best antidote we have to the overwhelmingly depressing political environment we are in. You’ve taken such a healthy approach to dealing with situations that are largely out of our control. Victoria is one of my favorite cities . . . though I’ve never been to Toronto so can’t compare!

      Liked by 1 person

      • They’re very different, total opposites. Toronto is big and bustling, very work and success oriented. Tons to do. Would never be described as laid back. I’m originally from Montreal — totally different from both Toronto and Victoria and even Vancouver for that matter. There’s something for everyone in Canada. The older I get and the crazier the world becomes the more zen I crave.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Donna,
    How are you?

    I posted this a few days ago on LinkedIn

    Albert Einstein said, “The most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the power of all true science.” Do you have a mystical heart? If so, “Spiritual Courage” (SC) lives there. hashtag#courageexpert hashtag#couragecoach hashtag#chorusofcourage

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Sandra, that’s a great Einstein quote! I love how he so often articulates the intersection of science and spirit. And his recognition of the power of nature. Thanks for sharing it. Hope all is well with you.

      Like

  3. During our seven-week stay in Mexico, we spent a lot of time outdoors walking, but not too much time really in nature. When we were able to visit the botanical garden, I could feel my mood change… I felt so relaxed. You just can’t get that feeling of peace inside a building.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m with you, Donna. Although I haven’t incorporated as much ‘wild time’ into my days as I’d like, I noticed, during my 7-week trip overseas that so much less screen-time and so much more walking and looking, both in cities and in the country, made me stronger, healthier and happier. Back home in Australia, I too love to write in the garden, often by hand. Even looking out the window at trees and gardens helps to relax the mind. And in our cities we often have ‘nature strips’ between the pavements and the kerbs, for grass and trees. In the safer suburbs, some people even plant a few herbs or veggies there. Although my daily walks are mostly through inner-city streets, I am surrounded my nature. There is nothing, though, as beneficial as immersion in nature, ‘going bush’ as we say! Thanks for reminding me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Carol, so good to hear from you. I’m looking forward to hearing about the grand trip! Having a spot in the garden to write is one of the great gifts of life. Are you still in the midst of winter, or is spring on the way down under?

      Like

  5. I’ve brought this outside to read 😉 Since we moved into our own home last year, we have made our garden into the most used room of our house! We practically live out here in the evenings. We gave up an allotment as its location made it less and less practical, but now we have room at home. Just pottering in the garden and growing a bit of food is very awe-inspiring and soul-restoring.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wonderful, Donna! I’m on my computer just until it warms up a few degrees. Have watered the very abundant plants in the three pots on my balcony. Then, will head out to find a LimeBike and ride along Elliott Bay. I may live in the city (a block from the Olympic Sculpture Park); but find Nature where I can. Plants and the Sound are very soothing. My little bit of nature in the city!

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s lots of nature to be found in Seattle, Jan, and it sounds like you know just where to find it. How lovely to live so close to the Sculpture Park–it’s always such a treat. Hope you’re enjoying this changeable weather. Thanks for connecting!

      Like

    • Me, too, Miriam! Right now, Seattle is so smoky from fires to the north, south, and east of us that we are being told to stay inside. Our air quality is said to be worse than Beijing’s right now. So I look through my window at the hazy hills and thirsty trees. We are so appreciative of the Australian firefighters who have come to help battle the wildfires here in the American west.

      Liked by 1 person

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