“I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.” ~E.B. White
A few weeks ago I posted about how it was “SMART to Spend Time in Nature.” That’s because there are dozens of scientific studies that now prove that not only is it healing for the body, it is also extremely good for our mental health to experience time in the great outdoors. Since writing that blog, I have since discovered that not only is it good for us physically and mentally—spending time in nature also makes us nicer and more generous people.
In 2009, four different studies done at the University of Rochester in New York were conducted to test the effects of nature on a person’s values and actions. Each study exposed participants to either a natural or a man-made setting. Those involved were asked to observe and attend to the environment on display by paying attention to the sights, sounds and feelings those settings provided. Some were merely exposed to a natural setting on a photo slide show, as opposed to a photo slide show of buildings and/or urban landscape. Others were placed in rooms with plants and flowers as opposed to those without. Following these different experiences, the participants were given a questionnaire assessing different psychological and sociological perspectives regarding life aspirations.
In all four studies the people exposed to natural elements consistently valued close relationships and community as more highly desirable. In contrast, those participants who focused on artificial elements (like buildings or technology) rated wealth and fame as their most important values. In a test to determine generosity, participants who had been in contact with nature were more willing to share money and resources, and those who said they had deeply connected with the nature experience were more likely to be generous with that sharing. According to the researchers, these studies showed that the participants who connected to nature became less self-focused, and instead became more other-focused. Their values seemed to shift from one of personal gain and narcissism, to a wider connection to community. In other words, those exposed to nature were more kind and caring.
What is it about nature that brings such a verifiable result? The authors of the studies believe that nature helps people to connect to their authentic human selves. As one coauthor, Andrew Przybylski said, “Nature strips away the artifices of society that alienate us from one another.” Przybylski believes that humans are essentially communal because we must cooperate and depend upon one another for survival. The coauthors collectively agreed that “natural environments may encourage introspection and the lack of man-made structures provide a safe haven from the man-made pressures of society.”
Unfortunately, less and less Americans (and their children) are spending time outdoors or in the presence of nature. Since 1987, outdoor activities have declined almost 18 to 25% according to some reports. Some speculate that this is due to spending too much time in front of the computer or TV—or playing video games. For whatever the reason, not only will people remain sucked into a more self-focused realty, people who don’t spend much time outdoors or visit natural places will likely not fight hard to protect them.
Obviously, the studies done at the University of Rochester demonstrate how we humans are influenced by our environments, whether we are aware of it or not. If we live life tucked away in homes that are devoid of anything natural, we can expect ourselves and our families to get caught up in a societal frenzy of more, more and more wealth and fame. On the other hand, if we take make the effort to spend time in nature, as well as create homes and workplaces filled with plants and natural objects, we will deepen our connection to others and the world around us.
Spending time in nature reminds us that we are much more than mere biological beings living in a mechanical world. Not only does our mental and physical well-being depend on nature, if we wish to create a kinder and more caring world, we will all benefit by taking a walk in the trees.
“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” ~William Shakespeare
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountain is going home; that wildness is necessity; that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.” ~John Muir