What Happens When We Reconnect with Nature
Research is discovering all the different ways that nature benefits our well-being, health, and relationships. This article in UC Berkeley's e-newsletter summarizes and synthesizes the evidence.
By Kristophe Green and Dacher Keltner
Humans have long intuited that being in nature is good for the mind and body. From indigenous adolescents completing rites of passage in the wild, to modern East Asian cultures taking “forest baths,” many have looked to nature as a place for healing and personal growth.
Why nature? No one knows for sure; but one hypothesis derived from evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson’s “biophilia” theory suggests that there are evolutionary reasons people seek out nature experiences. We may have preferences to be in beautiful, natural spaces because they are resource-rich environments—ones that provide optimal food, shelter, and comfort. These evolutionary needs may explain why children are drawn to natural environments and why we prefer nature to be part of our architecture.
Now, a large body of research is documenting the positive impacts of nature on human flourishing—our social, psychological, and emotional life. Over 100 studies have shown that being in nature, living near nature, or even viewing nature in paintings and videos can have positive impacts on our brains, bodies, feelings, thought processes, and social interactions. In particular, viewing nature seems to be inherently rewarding, producing a cascade of position emotions and calming our nervous systems. These in turn help us to cultivate greater openness, creativity, connection, generosity, and resilience.
In other words, science suggests we may seek out nature not only for our physical survival, but because it’s good for our social and personal well-being.