Why connecting with nature is the ultimate act of self-love… and easy ways to do it daily.
Have you ever wondered why you feel an immediate sense of calm when you gaze at the sea; why you’re suddenly able to solve a complicated work problem when you take a lunchtime walk in the park; or why you sleep better when listening to the sounds of gentle rainfall? It’s because humans are biologically wired to feel happy in nature.
To celebrate the summer of self-love on the Happy Place app and the beautiful locations hosting this year’s Happy Place festival, we’re taking a deeper look into why being in nature is so good for us. Plus, we share some simple ways that we can all get our nature fix, even when time and geography say otherwise. Skychology, anyone?
How nature affects us
Ever had a tough day and found yourself feeling pleasantly distracted by an Instagram-worthy sunset? Environmental psychologists believe that we’re intuitively drawn to beautiful, natural settings over man-made cities because our brains interpret them as resource-rich environments that tap into our evolutionary drive for shelter, food and survival.
Because humans are genetically wired to seek out spaces where we feel safe and able to thrive, gazing at natural landscapes (or listening to soothing soundscapes on the Happy Place app) is pretty powerful stuff. Psychologists even have a name for the phenomenon – biophilia theory.
Aside from satisfying our inner caveman, studies have found that nature has an all-round positive effect on everything from our brains and bodies to our thought processes and social lives. It’s basically the key to connecting with ourselves and others around us. Here’s how…
It reduces anxiety and depression
While being outdoors is by no means a cure-all for health issues, research from the University of Exeter has found that time outside can be a soothing balm on days where everything feels too much. Studying 20,000 people, the team uncovered that those who spend just two hours a week in green spaces, such as local parks, were far more likely to report feeling happier and psychologically well than those who didn’t.
So, just 20 minutes per day is all we need to feel better – and on those days when you can’t get outside much, try a Happy Place nature-inspired soundscape or sleep meditation to help you feel connected to nature.
It improves productivity
In a 2015 study, researchers from Stanford University assigned a group of 60 participants to a 50-minute walk in either leafy woodlands or along a busy, four-lane road. Before and after the walk, the study authors assessed how the group felt and how well they could perform short-term memory tasks.
The results were fascinating: the group that took a stroll in the woods felt a decrease in anxiety and had an overall higher performance on the memory tasks than those who pounded the pavements. One possible explanation? Kaplan’s Attention Restoration Theory.
This study from the 1980s found that noises, sights and sounds in busy cities overload our brain and affect its ability to knuckle down on single-focus tasks. Nature, meanwhile, does the opposite.
The research team also found that even just looking at photos and videos of beautiful landscapes can have a similar focus-boosting effect – so watching a nature programme or listening to a Happy Place app sound bath while viewing one of our calming landscapes can rejuvenate us, boost our attention and get us back on task.
It can help us feel connected to others
A research team at King’s College London found that when people are able to see trees or hear birds, feelings of loneliness fall by a staggering 28%.
A growing body of evidence also supports the idea that being in a natural environment causes us to prioritise pro-social behaviours like being kinder and sensitive to other people’s feelings. Plus, according to those same scientists, we’re more likely to volunteer and be willing to help others in our community too.
How to get your self-love nature fix
The effects of nature are so powerful that governments are now encouraging people to prioritise spending more time outdoors, with some GPs even administering time in nature (called ‘green social prescribing’) as a treatment for mental health issues.
Thankfully, you don’t need to be living off-grid in a remote cabin to tap into nature’s healing power. There are lots of simple ways to get a natural high, no matter where you are in the world. Here are a few ideas to get you started on a nature-inspired self-love journey…
Try skychology: Skychology is the simple act of looking upwards, towards the sky. If you live in an urban environment, researchers believe that looking up at the clouds can connect us with nature and bring on the feel-good benefits.
Try a walking meditation: A mindful walking meditation that prompts you to notice different things in the world around you is a great way to connect with nature. Try one today on the Happy Place app.
Find a local walking group: Making new friends and being part of a group can give you an additional wellbeing boost. The Ramblers Association is a good resource for checking out your local options and Mental Health mates is a brilliant initiative, set up by author Bryony Gordon, which encourages you to meet, walk and talk for your mental health.
Volunteer outdoors: Not-for-profit organisations like Green Gym and Good Gym match volunteers with community gardening projects, so you can ‘do good’ and ‘feel good’ at the same time.
Dip into a nature-inspired sound bath: If you’ve never tried one before, an uplifting sound bath combined with beautiful visuals of natural landscapes is just the thing. Monica Bazzani, sound bath master, has a great wildflower meadow sound bath for energising and uplifting your mood on the Happy Place app – available with a free trial.
Check out the nature-inspired walking meditations, sleep stories, yoga nidra and much much more on the Happy Place app.