There is a growing body of scientific research suggesting causal links between happiness and nature. There are a number of life lessons we can learn from nature; lessons of gratitude and self-love.
Most of us already have a subjective idea of the joyful feelings of being away from a crowded city, but you might not be aware of just how essential interacting with nature is for positive mental health. Let’s break down the neurological effects that have been reported by the latest scientific research.
Living in the Countryside
In 2011, Meyer-Lindenberg published a study in Nature magazine, which suggested that people who have grown up in rural environments deal better with stress than those who grew up in urban areas. Researchers used fMRI scans to observe people’s amygdalas, while undergoing stressful tasks.
The amygdala is the part of the brain linked to feelings of fear and anxiety. For people from densely populated urban environments, the amygdala was far more active than for those who had spent their lives in the countryside.
This landmark study revealed that our brains are wired according to our environment, with rural areas allowing for happiness to flourish without the constraints of stress.
Living by the Ocean
The beach is a common pilgrimage point for those looking to relax. There’s something about the ocean which helps you connect with your spirituality. Now science is revealing the profound effects on the brain of living by the sea.
Researchers from the University of Canterbury and Michigan State University conducted a comparative study on the happiness of people living near green and blue areas. The results showed that, while all nature is relaxing and boosts mood, the ocean has a larger effect than parkland.
This is possibly because parks are often modified to be less natural, while oceans remain untouched.
Taking a Short Walk
If you have grown up in a city or need to live in an urban area for work, then don’t worry. While years spent near the natural world can rewire the brain for long-term happiness, a short walk in nature can temporarily boost mood.
A 15 minute walk has been shown to boost mental health, lower depression and even reduce physical pain. This is due to several reasons. Firstly, exercise releases endorphins, a natural pain reliever which leads to states of joy.
Secondly, a natural environment stops the brain from becoming overstimulated, reducing fatigue and leading to a mindful state. Finally, the clean air leaves you feeling energized, so you can be more creative and productive, thereby increasing happiness by giving your life a greater sense of meaning.
There is consensus now that nature increases happiness. This is true when correcting for other factors such as age or socioeconomic status.
FMRI scans are revealing how urban environments activate parts of the brain linked to fear and stress, while the countryside lower activity in these regions and releases chemicals linked to positive mood.
About Sally Perkins
Sally Perkins is a professional freelance writer with many years experience across many different areas. She made the move to freelancing from a stressful corporate job and loves the work-life balance it offers her. When not at work, Sally enjoys reading, hiking, spending time with her family and travelling as much as possible.