New study proves exposure to nature directly improves happiness

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 by: Julie Wilson
Tags: happiness, nature, mental health

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(NaturalNews) A recently released study featured in the American Chemical Society (ACS) journal Environmental Science & Technology proves that exposure to nature directly improves mental health.

With nearly 80 percent of the world's population residing in urban areas, ACS researcher Mathew P. White cites mental well-being as a major public health concern, listing "unipolar depressive disorder as the leading cause of disability in middle- to high-income countries."

The study, which was conducted in the UK, compared the mental health of 100 people who moved from city landscapes to greener, more natural settings and those who relocated in the reverse direction. The data showed that those who relocated to settings with a higher exposure to nature were found to be overall happier during the three years that their mental health was recorded.

The researchers concluded that "[m]oving to greener urban areas was associated with sustained mental health improvements, suggesting that environmental policies to increase urban green space may have sustainable public health benefits."

Nature makes you feel alive

Previous studies have shown that exposure to the great outdoors directly increases one's feelings of vitality, which subsequently generates more energy and even helps develop a more resistant immune system.

The lead author and a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, Richard Ryan, insists, "Nature is fuel for the soul. Often when we feel depleted we reach for a cup of coffee, but research suggests a better way to get energized is to connect with nature."

Not only does direct exposure to nature increase happiness, but simply imagining yourself outdoors or recalling previous outdoor excursions has been shown to increase serotonin levels, thus boosting mood, decreasing exhaustion and improving overall health.

In a separate study conducted by the University of Rochester, researchers sampled the effects of nature on 537 college students in both real and imagined situations.

One experiment included students taking a 15-minute walk through indoor hallways or outside along a tree-lined river path. A second experiment consisted of students examining photographic scenes of buildings or landscapes, while the third experiment asked students to imagine themselves in a variety of scenarios including being both indoors and outdoors, active and inactive and with others or alone.

The final part of the experiment recorded the students' mood and energy levels, which were then documented through diary entries. The data found that individuals who spent time outdoors, or simply imagined themselves in nature, consistently experienced higher energy levels and increased feelings of happiness. Researchers noted that just 20 minutes outdoors a day greatly boosted energy levels and improved one's mood.

Additionally, according to the study, the presence of nature such as indoor plants had an independent energizing effect above that of being outdoors. In other words, just being outdoors was vitalizing because of the presence of nature.

A psychologist at the University of Hamburg, Germany, Ryan Netta Weinstein, asserts that, not only does outdoor exposure increase happiness, but it also influences character traits. Studies show that those who are exposed to greener landscapes reportedly build generosity and a more caring attitude than those who are continually surrounded by city life.

"Nature is something within which we flourish, so having it be more a part of our lives is critical, especially when we live and work in built environments," said Weinstein.

Scientists believe that, because of our innate connection with living things, it's extremely important to incorporate natural elements into our urban landscapes.

Virtual reality replacing the great outdoors

A recent survey released by the Vision Council revealed that 70 percent of adults experience "digital eye strain," which stems from too much time spent staring at TVs, tablets, laptop computers and cellphones.

Because the blink response is suppressed while staring at digital screens, the eye becomes dry after being denied its natural lubrication. The effects include blurry vision, fatigue, neck and shoulder strain, and even macular degeneration and cataracts.

Technology is steadily replacing our natural environment, with "digital eye strain" being just the latest negative impact on human health.

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