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Flourishing in nature: A review of the benefits of connecting with nature and its application as a wellbeing intervention

Summary


Connecting with nature is one path to flourishing in life

This article is a meta-analysis of scores of research studies published  in the last decade. Defining “nature” as “environments and physical features  of nonhuman origins, ranging from plants to non-built landscapes,” the article examines the theoretical explanations and reviews the present evidence for  why lack of connection to nature may result in suboptimal well-being. The article reviews a large body of research on the mental health benefits of connecting  with nature. It  discusses documented advantages of connecting with nature, use of nature  as a potential intervention towards well-being. Limitations of and future directions for research in this area are presented. 

It  is commonly believed that contact with nature improves well-being and leads to many important  physical and psychological benefits. The authors identify two related aspects of the human nature experience: nature contact and nature  connectedness. Nature  contact involves directly interacting with the natural world, while nature connectedness refers to “one’s subjective sense of connection with the natural world.” Both experiences are important in order for individuals to enjoy the benefits of nature. 

Theoretical explanations for why nature plays an important role in well being include biophilia, attention restoration, and stress reduction. Each of these theories asserts that connection with nature supports human well-being and functioning. That well-being can be separated into “hedonic well-being” which refers to a sense of satisfaction and positive feelings about one’s life; and “eudiamonic” well-being, which refers to a broader sense of well being that includes feelings of transcendence, autonomy, meaning, and vitality, resulting from feelings of  awe and inspiration brought about by contact with nature.

The authors assert that, given the abundance of research demonstrating the positive benefits of nature on well-being, nature-based interventions are understudied and warrant more consideration and research.  In particular, they point out, repeated contact with nature produces larger benefits to well-being than other interventions. Notable contact with nature interventions include several studies which aim to increase people’s time spent in nature, although participants in those studies were largely self-selected. Forest and nature schools(FNS) are another nature-based intervention strategy cited by the article, as research suggests that FNS have a positive influence on children across multiple  domains of functioning. 

Significant gaps in the research remain, namely; that researchers tend to rely on pleasant nature and avoid  or neglect the role of unpleasant aspects (such as mosquitoes or forest fires) in human well-being, as well as the need for more research on nature’s role in lessening the experience of “negative” emotions such as loneliness, isolation, and anxiety.

Citation

Capaldi, C., Passmore, H., Nisbet, E., Zelenski, J., Dopko, R., (2015). Flourishing in nature: A review of the benefits of connecting with nature and its application as a wellbeing intervention. International Journal of Wellbeing, 5(4), 1-16.

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