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



From the increasing number of people living in urban areas to the continued degradation of the natural environment, many of us appear to be physically and psychologically disconnected from nature. We consider the theoretical explanations and present evidence for why this state of affairs might result in suboptimal levels of hedonic and eudaimonic wellbeing by reviewing the large body of research on the mental health benefits of connecting with nature. The advantages of nature contact as a potential wellbeing intervention are discussed, along with examples of how this research is being applied to reconnect individuals to nature and improve wellbeing. We conclude by considering the limitations and proposing future directions for research in this area. Overall, evidence suggests that connecting with nature is one path to flourishing in life.
Capaldi, C. A., Passmore, H.-A., Nisbet, E. K., Zelenski, J. M., & Dopko, R. L. (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. doi:10.5502/ijw.v5i4.1
Colin A. Capaldi
Carleton University
Copyright belongs to the author(s)
Flourishing in nature: A review of the benefits of
connecting with nature and its application as a
wellbeing intervention
Colin A. Capaldi · Holli-Anne Passmore · Elizabeth K. Nisbet · John M. Zelenski ·
Raelyne L. Dopko
Abstract: From the increasing number of people living in urban areas to the continued
degradation of the natural environment, many of us appear to be physically and psychologically
disconnected from nature. We consider the theoretical explanations and present evidence for why
this state of affairs might result in suboptimal levels of hedonic and eudaimonic wellbeing by
reviewing the large body of research on the mental health benefits of connecting with nature. The
advantages of contact with nature as a potential wellbeing intervention are discussed, and
examples of how this research is being applied to reconnect individuals to nature and improve
wellbeing are given. We conclude by considering the limitations of, and proposing future
directions for, research in this area. Overall, evidence suggests that connecting with nature is one
path to flourishing in life.
Keywords: nature, nature connectedness, flourishing, subjective wellbeing, hedonic wellbeing,
eudaimonic wellbeing, human-nature
1. Introduction
From ancient Chinese healers to Western writers such as Henry David Thoreau, the belief that
connecting with the natural world improves wellbeing repeatedly appears throughout recorded
human history (Selhub & Logan, 2012). Despite the durability of this belief over time and across
cultures, numerous trends suggest that many are ignoring this time-tested wisdom, and are
disconnected, both physically and psychologically, from nature.
Since 1950, the percentage of
the world’s population living in a relatively nature-impoverished urban milieu, versus the
nature-rich surroundings of rural life, has almost doubled from 30% to 54%, and is as high as
82% in North America (United Nations, 2014). The shift to urban living is expected to continue
and become even more pronounced as the twenty-first century progresses. In financially
wealthy, industrialized nations, less than 10% of each day, on average, is spent outdoors (Evans
For the purpose of this article, our conceptualization of “nature” is similar to the definition outlined in Hartig,
Mitchell, de Vries, & Frumkin (2014). Specifically, we define nature broadly as environments and physical features of
nonhuman origins, ranging from plants to non-built landscapes. This conceptualization corresponds well with how
nature is commonly operationalized by researchers; it is also in line with lay conceptions of what constitutes nature
(Vining, Merrick, & Price, 2008; cf. Descola & Pálsson, 1996). We believe that this conceptualization offers a
representative view of the literature on this topic, yet includes variation that might be parsed more precisely in
future work. It is important to note that nonhuman animals fall under the umbrella of some conceptualizations of
nature, but will not be focused on in this review (see Amiot & Bastian, 2014 instead).
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& McCoy, 1998; MacKerron & Mourato, 2013; Matz et al., 2014) and per capita participation in
nature-based recreation is declining (Pergams & Zaradic, 2008). Children are spending less time
outdoors (Louv, 2005), opting for large amounts of screen time instead (Rideout, Foehr, &
Roberts, 2010). Emblematic of the modern popularity of electronic media over nature-based
recreation (Pergams & Zaradic, 2006), children seem to be better at identifying Pokémon than
common wildlife species (Balmford, Clegg, Coulson, & Taylor, 2002). Simultaneously, the
necessary behavior change required to address and mitigate environmental issues such as
climate change remains largely unactualized, and the health of the natural environment
continues to deteriorate due to human (in)action (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,
2014). In sum, many people are not as connected to nature as they could be and this has
implications, not only for the wellbeing of the environment, but also for the wellbeing of
individuals. In fact, there is growing evidence that supports the age-old belief that connecting
with nature promotes flourishing (i.e., enhanced hedonic and eudaimonic wellbeing) and
positive mental health. Without regular contact with nature, however, people may be missing
out on some of these psychological benefits.
We examine two related, but distinct, aspects of the human-nature experiencenature
contact and nature connectednessand how they relate to and promote flourishing. Nature
contact involves interacting with the natural world, such as being immersed in a natural
environment, being around natural elements indoors (e.g., plants), or being exposed to virtual
representations of nature (e.g., viewing photographs or videos of natural landscapes). Contact
with nature can be relatively brief, intermittent, or regular. Nature connectedness, however,
refers to one’s subjective sense of connection with the natural world. Although typically
conceived of as an individual difference (see Tam, 2013), nature connectedness can also be
measured as a state; it can fluctuate in the short-term depending on situational context.
Individuals who are more connected to nature spend more time outdoors (Mayer & Frantz, 2004;
Nisbet, Zelenski, & Murphy, 2009; Tam, 2013), and nature contact often increases momentary
feelings of connectedness (Mayer, Frantz, Bruehlman-Senecal, & Dolliver, 2009; Nisbet, 2013,
2014; Nisbet & Zelenski, 2011). In this review, we also discuss the advantages of contact with
nature as a potential wellbeing intervention, and how research from this area is being applied to
connect individuals with nature to improve wellbeing. We then consider the gaps in the
literature, and outline future research directions and implications.
2. Why is nature beneficial to wellbeing? Theoretical explanations
Three major theories address the question of why connecting with nature is beneficial to our
wellbeing: biophilia, attention restoration, and stress reduction. The biophilia hypothesis posits
that our ancestors’ wellbeing and survival depended on connecting with nature (i.e., for finding
food and water, navigating, and predicting time or future weather conditions, etc.; Kellert &
Wilson, 1993). Humans have begun living in urban environments only recently (Wilson, 1984);
therefore, the need to connect with nature likely remains an innate part of who we are. Although
evolutionary concepts like biophilia are difficult to test, suggestive evidence comes from studies
that find preferences for nature scenes over built environments (Dopko, Zelenski, & Nisbet, 2014;
Hartig, Böök, Garvill, Olsson, & Gärling, 1996; Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989; Kaplan, Kaplan, & Wendt,
1972; Ulrich, 1981; Van den Berg, Koole, & van der Wulp, 2003), and attraction to nature being
evidenced across diverse cultures (e.g., Ulrich, 1993; Newell, 1997) and at very young ages (e.g.,
Kahn, 1997). A multitude of studies, discussed below, also suggest that satisfying our need to
connect with nature boosts wellbeing.
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Attention restoration theory (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989) provides another explanation for
nature’s beneficial effects.
This theory distinguishes between directed attention (which is used
for executive functions and involves prolonged focus and effort) and involuntary attention
(which is effortless yet demanding). Directed attention is a limited resource that becomes
fatigued after extended use and, when depleted, may lead to negative emotional states (e.g.,
irritability) and declines in cognitive performance. Natural environments seem particularly
restorative: they provide an opportunity to get away, contain fascinating rich stimuli that
effortlessly engage our involuntary attention, and allow us to act without the need to constantly
monitor our behavior (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989). Numerous empirical studies report
improvements in concentration, directed attention (Berman, Jonides, & Kaplan, 2008; Berto, 2005;
Hartig, Evans, Jamner, Davis, & Gärling, 2003; Van den Berg et al., 2003), and emotional
functioning (discussed below) after contact with nature.
Finally, stress-reduction theory (Ulrich et al., 1991) maintains that exposure to certain
(unthreatening) natural environments that were evolutionarily beneficial for wellbeing and
survival automatically elicits a variety of stress-reducing psychophysiological responses.
Compared to built environments, nature can decrease arousal and perceived stress levels (Ulrich,
1979, 1981; Ulrich et al., 1991), and promote psychophysiological stress recovery (e.g., decrease
blood pressure) after attentional abilities are fatigued (Hartig et al., 2003). Moreover, access to
nearby nature can buffer against stress (Stigsdotter et al., 2010; Van Herzele & de Vries, 2012;
Van den Berg, Maas, Verheij, & Groenewegen, 2010; Ulrich, 1981). Researchers in Japan have
tested how specific elements of nature, such as wood or the sound of running water, influence
the human stress response. Several decades of evidence suggests that contact with nature can
lower pulse rates, reduce cortisol levels, and improve immune functioning (Tsunetsugu, Park, &
Miyazaki, 2010; cf. Bowler, Buyung-Ali, Knight, & Pullin, 2010).
Beyond the idiosyncrasies of each theory, their implications are similar: connecting with
nature should support human wellbeing and functioning. Next, we provide a comprehensive
review of the empirical research that has tested this hypothesis.
3. Nature and hedonic wellbeing
Researchers have investigated the short- and long-term effects of contact with nature on hedonic
wellbeing, and the association between hedonic wellbeing and nature connectedness. Hedonic
wellbeing, which is also referred to as subjective or emotional wellbeing, consists of high levels
of positive emotions, low levels of negative emotions, and a sense of satisfaction with one’s life
(Diener, 2009; Keyes, 2002). In essence, hedonic wellbeing is the feeling good component of
wellbeing (Keyes & Annas, 2009).
Numerous studies have shown that brief contact with nature promotes positive emotional
states. For instance, relatively brief walks in natural, versus urban/indoor, environments can lead
to significant boosts in mood (Mayer et al., 2009; Nisbet & Zelenski, 2011), even for those
diagnosed with mood disorders (Berman et al., 2012). A recent meta-analysis of 32 randomized
controlled studies with over 2,000 participants corroborates this; contact with nature results in
moderate, significant increases in positive affect, as well as small, but significant, decreases in
negative affect (McMahan & Estes, 2015). Similar findings are reported in other systematic
More recently, Stephen and Rachel Kaplan have developed a broader framework called the reasonable person
model that focuses on how environmental factors can influence cognition, behaviour, and wellbeing by supporting
human informational needs (see Kaplan, 2000; Kaplan & Basu, 2015; Kaplan & Kaplan, 2003, 2009). Although it is not
as commonly cited in the naturewellbeing literature as the other three theories, the reasonable person model can
also help explain nature’s wide-ranging beneficial effects on human flourishing.
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reviews on the health benefits of nature (Bowler et al., 2010) and the effect of “green exercise” on
mental wellbeing (Thompson-Coon et al., 2011). Additional support comes from an experience
sampling study of 20,000 residents of the United Kingdom (MacKerron & Mourato, 2013). Even
after controlling for a variety of confounding variables (e.g., weather, social company, type of
activity, day of the week), people were happier when in natural environments than when in
urban ones.
Technologically mediated or virtual exposure to nature (e.g., viewing images or videos) is
also generally associated with enhanced hedonic wellbeing (see Velarde, Fry, & Tviet, 2007).
When virtual exposure to nature is compared to actual contact with nature, however, real nature
experiences provide a greater mood boost (Kahn, Severson, & Ruckert, 2009; Mayer et al., 2009;
McMahan & Estes, 2015). Thus, while browsing nature photographs or watching a nature
documentary is likely to improve mood, getting outdoors and connecting directly with nature
may be optimal for maximizing happiness.
Given the positive hedonic outcomes, one may question why people are not spending time
in nature (Evans & McCoy, 1998; MacKerron & Mourato, 2013; Matz et al., 2014). One explanation
for this disconnect is that nature’s effects on wellbeing are underappreciated. Although people
often overestimate the impact of emotional experiences (i.e., people make affective forecasting
errors; Wilson & Gilbert, 2005), the reverse may be true for contact with nature. In experiments
testing anticipated and actual experiences, Nisbet and Zelenski (2011) found that, on average,
people tend to underestimate the mood benefits of brief contact with nature. This prediction error
may be leading people to choose less healthy activities, resulting in missed opportunities to foster
positive mental health and a greater connectedness with nature.
Relatively less attention has been given to examining the longer-term effects of nature
exposure on hedonic wellbeing. There is, however, some evidence that repeated contact with
nature leads to improved emotional functioning and greater life satisfaction. A survey of 3,000
Finnish participants found that those who reported spending more of their leisure time engaged
in nature-based recreational activities had higher emotional wellbeing than those who reported
spending less of their free time in nature (Korpela, Borodulin, Neuvonen, Paronen, & Tyrväinen,
2014). A series of large-scale European studies based on data from national surveys has
investigated the influence of nearby green space on wellbeing and mental health (de Vries,
Verheij, Groenewegen, & Spreeuwenberg, 2003; Maas et al., 2009; Van den Berg et al., 2010;
White, Alcock, Wheeler, & Depledge, 2013). These studies consistently find that living in an area
with more green space is associated with less mental distress than living in an area with less
green space. Moreover, in a longitudinal study that had over 10,000 U.K. residents (White et al.,
2013), living in a greener urban area was associated with greater life satisfaction. Thus, it appears
that having access to nature near one’s home can provide a buffer against mental distress and
promote a sense of satisfaction with one’s life (cf. Huynh, Craig, Janssen, & Pickett, 2013 for an
Studies that ask participants to connect with nature have found similar results. For example,
after a two-week intervention, participants randomly assigned to increase their time in nature
reported higher net-positive affect compared to participants in a control condition (Passmore &
Howell, 2014). Similar improvements were reported by Canadians participating in the David
Suzuki Foundation’s month-long 30x30 nature challenge (Nisbet, 2013, 2014), which is described
in more detail below. Richardson, Hallam, and Lumber (2015) had participants write about three
good things they had noticed in nature for a five-day period. Positive feelings elicited by nature
was one of the common themes identified in the writings. Overall, these studies support the
notion that repeatedly connecting with nature is associated with enhanced hedonic wellbeing.
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Beyond contact with nature, trait connectedness with nature is also associated with increased
hedonic wellbeing. A recent meta-analysis of 30 samples containing over 8,500 participants
found a significant relationship between nature connectedness and happiness indicators such as
positive affect and life satisfaction (Capaldi, Dopko, & Zelenski, 2014). Connectedness may
motivate people to seek nature contact, due to the reinforcing mental health benefits these
experiences provide. Nature connectedness has also been linked with psychological resilience,
which is key in managing stress and maintaining positive mental health (Ingulli & Lindbloom,
2013). In sum, a plethora of research shows that connecting with nature is associated with
improved emotional functioning and satisfaction with life.
4. Nature and eudaimonic wellbeing
Although more research has focused on the link between nature and hedonia, some work has
also explored nature’s influence on broader aspects of wellbeing. Often loosely gathered under
the term “eudaimonia”, constructs such as meaning, autonomy, vitality, and feelings of
transcendence represent additional components of mental health beyond merely feeling good.
Eudaimonia has been described as the functioning well component of wellbeing (Keyes & Annas,
Contact with nature and nature relatedness has been linked with several indicators of
eudaimonic wellbeing. For example, feeling that one’s life is meaningful correlates positively
with nature connectedness (e.g., Cervinka, Roderer, & Hefler, 2012; Nisbet, Zelenski, & Murphy,
2011). Furthermore, experiences in natural environments are an important source of meaning for
adults of all ages (Fegg, Kramer, L’hoste, & Borasio, 2008; O’Connor & Chamberlain, 1996; Reker
& Woo, 2011; Schnell, 2009; Steger et al., 2013), including clinical populations (e.g., Berger &
McLeod, 2006; Granerud & Eriksson, 2014).
Empirical evidence links exposure to nature with increased autonomy, the ability to freely
choose one’s actions—an important part of eudaimonic wellbeing. In experimental research, the
more immersed participants were in nature photographs, the more autonomous they felt
(Weinstein, Przybylski, & Ryan, 2009). Experiences in nature also appear to provide the freedom
to be one’s authentic self. Mayer et al. (2009) found that participants who were randomly
assigned to take a walk in nature reported significantly reduced public self-awareness. In
qualitative research, adults who had spent time in the wilderness reported that what made their
experiences especially meaningful was the fact that “there was virtually no reason to be anyone
but themselves” (Fredrickson & Anderson, 1999, p. 30). Research from the outdoor education
and experiential learning literature describes similar benefits of wilderness and nature
immersion experiences on autonomy and other measures of psychological wellbeing like
personal growth, self-esteem, self-regulation, and social competency (e.g., Norton & Watt, 2014;
Passarelli, Hall, & Anderson, 2010; Ray & Jakubec, 2014).
The experience of vitalityfully feeling alive and energized (Ryan & Frederick, 1997)
appears to be enhanced by connecting with nature. When research participants tracked their
daily activities, greater vitality was associated with activities involving nature, regardless of
physical exercise and social companionship levels (Ryan et al., 2010). An increase in vitality was
even reported by participants who merely imagined themselves in an outdoor setting. In
experimental studies, participants randomly assigned to walk in nature reported greater vitality
than those who walked indoors (Nisbet & Zelenski, 2011; Ryan et al., 2010). Finally, meta-analytic
results show that those with a stronger connection with nature than others tend to report a
greater sense of vitality (Capaldi et al., 2014).
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The elevating feelings of awe and inspiration, connection to a greater whole, and spiritual
exaltationthe transcendent aspects of eudaimonic wellbeinghave been linked with nature as
well. The sights and sounds of nature are some of the most common elicitors of awe (Keltner &
Haidt, 2003; Shiota, Keltner, & Mossman, 2007; Terhaar, 2009), particularly fractal patterns found
in trees, clouds, rain, and birdsongs (Forsythe & Sheehy, 2011; Richards, 2001). Indeed,
panoramic photographs of nature have been described as the “prototypical awe elicitor” (Shiota
et al., 2007, p. 951), and even mundane images of nature can lead to increased feelings of awe
(Joye & Bolderdijk, 2014). Briefly viewing either unspectacular or awesome photographs of
nature can make people feel more connected to others, more caring, and more spiritual (Joye &
Bolderdijk, 2014). Several other studies provide empirical support for a close relationship
between spirituality and nature (Diessner, Solom, Frost, Parsons, & Davidson, 2008; Leary,
Tipsord, & Tate, 2008; Saraglou, Buxant, & Tilquin, 2008; Vining et al., 2008). Even imagined
experiences in nature can evoke intense feelings of awe and connectedness, as well as the feeling
of being in the presence of something greater than oneself (Shiota et al., 2007).
Thus far, we have primarily focused on the individual benefits of connecting with nature.
However, just as conceptions of flourishing and mental health are incomplete without
considering the social context (Keyes, 1998; World Health Organization, 2006), so is a discussion
of nature’s benefits without considering social aspects of wellbeing. Research shows that the
amount of neighborhood green space is correlated with stronger social ties reported among
neighbors and greater prosocial activity in the neighborhood (Kuo, 2003; Kuo, Sullivan, Coley,
& Brunson, 1998; Sommer, 2003; Sullivan, Kuo, & Depooter, 2004). The prosocial effect of
exposure to nature has also been demonstrated in experimental studies using videos or
photographs (Joye & Bolderdijk, 2014; Zelenski, Dopko, & Capaldi, 2015), a plant-filled room
(Weinstein et al., 2009), or after immersion in a forested urban park (Guéguen & Stefan, 2014).
The widespread social norm of giving flowers to others is also suggestive of nature’s ability to
foster positive relations. Indeed, evidence from experimental studies demonstrates that
participants primed with flowers are more likely to help strangers (Guéguen, Meineri, & Stefan,
2012), give money to others (Raihani & Bshary, 2012; Stefan & Guéguen, 2014; Stillman &
Hensley, 1980), act gregariously (Haviland-Jones, Rosario, Wilson, & McGuire, 2005), and feel
attracted to someone they have just met (Guéguen, 2011, 2012). Trait nature connectedness is
positively associated with humanitarianism (Nisbet et al., 2009), social wellbeing (Howell,
Dopko, Passmore, & Buro, 2011; Howell, Passmore, & Buro, 2013), kindness (Leary et al., 2008),
empathic concern (Zhang, Piff, Iyer, Koleva, & Keltner, 2014), altruistic concern (Schultz, 2001),
and perspective taking (Schultz, 2001).
5. Contact with nature as a wellbeing intervention
Despite the abundance of research demonstrating the beneficial effects that nature has on our
cognitive, emotional, spiritual, and physical wellbeing, nature-based interventions are
understudied and underutilized as a mental health strategy. This is surprising, given that
research suggests interventions connecting people with nature could bring a plethora of positive
changes across multiple domains of functioning. Furthermore, the effect of contact with nature
on wellbeing does not appear to depend on trait connectedness (e.g., Passmore & Howell, 2014)
or gender (e.g., McMahan & Estes, 2015). Willingness and adherence appear to be other
advantages of this type of intervention; individuals who participate in nature-based
interventions report high levels of intrinsic motivation and spend a considerable amount of time
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in nature (Nisbet, 2013, 2014; Passmore & Howell, 2014).
Additionally, connecting with nature
is a relatively easy and likely cost-effective intervention. In the majority of the research reviewed,
participants were exposed to ordinary, everyday natural environments accessible to most people.
Those with limited access to nearby nature could benefit (albeit to a lesser extent) from viewing
photographs or videos of nature. Existing research also suggests that the wellbeing boosts from
nature contact can be achieved fairly quickly. Finally, preliminary evidence suggests that
repeated contact with nature produces larger increases in wellbeing than other interventions
commonly cited in the positive psychology literature (Passmore & Howell, 2014). Although some
therapists are incorporating nature into their practice (e.g., Berger & McLeod, 2006; Burns, 1998;
Buzzell & Chalquist, 2009; Hasbach, 2012), relatively few programs or interventions appear to be
capitalizing on nature as a positive mental health strategy. Nevertheless, some notable exceptions
are described below.
6. Contact with nature interventions
One of the largest programs under empirical study is the David Suzuki Foundation’s 30x30
Nature Challenge. This campaign, which began in 2012, is an annual month-long intervention
encouraging Canadians to spend 30 minutes per day in nature during the month of May. In
general, participants double their weekly contact with nature, and report significant reductions
in stress, and significant improvements in mood and vitality (Nisbet, 2013, 2014). Trait nature
connectedness also increases significantly after the intervention, such that the greater the changes
in connectedness, the greater the improvements in wellbeing.
Another notable nature-based intervention is the Canadian Mental Health Association’s
Mood Walks initiative. Aimed at promoting physical activity, mental health, and social
connection, Mood Walks trains mental health organizations across Ontario and supports them
in launching nature hike programs for older adults dealing with serious mental illnesses.
Partnering with Conservation Ontario and Hike Ontario, over 20 mental health agencies
participated in 2014. Preliminary results echo those found in the literature, with participants
reporting significantly greater happiness and energy levels, as well as decreased anxiety,
following the walks (Mood Walks, 2015). Mental health, in general, also improved significantly
pre- to post-intervention.
Recognizing the importance of connecting children with nature, Forest and Nature Schools
(FNS) have become increasingly popular in many countries around the world (McClean, 2015).
In contrast to the conventional model of childhood education that takes place almost exclusively
indoors, children in FNS spend much of their school day immersed in nature. The philosophy
behind this approach tends to emphasize, in addition to regular nature contact, child-directed,
inquiry- and play-based learning where the educator acts more as a facilitator than an
authoritative teacher (Forest School Canada, 2014). While this approach to education has just
recently caught on in North America, there are already hundreds of FNS operating in Europe
(Westwood, 2013). Importantly, research suggests that FNS can have a positive influence on
children across multiple domains of functioning (e.g., O’Brien & Murray, 2007).
Some political leaders are actively trying to encourage greater nature contact among their
citizens. For instance, the then Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that almost
$10 million would be allocated to connect urban Canadians to nature (CBC News, 2014) and
Caution should be taken when interpreting Nisbet (2013, 2014) however, as only self-selected individuals
participated in the 30x30 Nature Challenge. Nevertheless, the participation of thousands of individuals without any
incentive arguably supports the notion of intrinsic motivation.
See Gill (2014) for a review of the benefits of nature contact for children.
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President Barack Obama is offering fourth grade students and their families free admission to
national parks for a year as part of his Every Kid in a Park initiative (The White House, Office of
the Press Secretary, 2015). As the evidence and public awareness of nature’s benefits grow, the
use of nature-based interventions will likely continue to expand. There are, however, some
important caveats, areas for improvement, and unanswered questions in this research area that
deserve mention.
7. Moving forward in nature
The research and theory reviewed here provide reasons to be optimistic about the salubrious
effects of nature contact and nature connectedness. Nonetheless, some difficult questions and
important research gaps remain. Researchers in this area generally use pleasant nature as stimuli
and neglect some of the more unpleasant aspects that may not be beneficial to human wellbeing
(e.g., mosquitoes or forest fires). With so many possible operationalizations, researchers must be
cautious with making broad conclusions about nature when testing only a few aspects of it. In
experimental studies, appropriate control conditions need to be selected: a task made difficult
without widely accepted or explicitly stated definitions of nature itself. Some research has
already suggested that particularly beautiful, awesome, or immersive nature experiences
provide additional benefits over more mundane nature stimuli (Joye & Bolderdijk, 2014;
Weinstein et al., 2009; Zhang et al., 2014), though other work does not seem to rely on using
particularly extraordinary exemplars of nature. Beyond obviously phobic natural stimuli (e.g.,
snakes), untamed wilderness may generate anxiety or thoughts of death, at least for some (Koole
& Van den Berg, 2005). Nevertheless, a recent meta-analysis found that tamed vs. untamed
nature did not moderate the effect of exposure to nature on positive emotions (McMahan & Estes,
2015), and Hinds and Sparks (2011) noted that normally “negative” emotions of loneliness,
isolation, and anxiety appear to be experienced more positively in natural environments. In
general, this is an area ripe for future research. Such research might better define the particular
kinds of nature that are most beneficial (e.g., water vs. forests; White et al., 2010), examine low-
level visual features of nature (e.g., hue diversity; Berman et al., 2014), or vary the medium (video
vs. actual) or sensory channel (sounds vs. images) of exposure to nature. There is also much to
learn about moderators at the level of individual differences and immediate context.
Similar issues emerge when it comes to using nature or representations of nature as part of
interventions designed to boost wellbeing. What kind of nature will work best? What is the ideal
dose? How long do the effects last? Will optimal results require a good fit among the particular
intervention method, the kind of nature, and the personal characteristics of the target (cf.,
Lyubomirsky & Layous, 2013)? Attention should also be directed towards defining appropriate
control groups when testing interventions. Much stronger support for the theoretical links
between nature and wellbeing will be provided by intervention studies that have strong, active
control groups, perhaps even comparing nature interventions to other established methods (e.g.,
positive psychology exercises). To date, most nature intervention research has not met the gold
standard of broad sampling, random assignment, strong control groups, and longitudinal data
collection. With generally promising results accumulating, we hope these more rigorous tests
will happen soon.
Our review has focused on encouraging results, and these are largely what are found in the
published literature. However, psychology, like other scientific fields, is increasingly concerned
about publication bias and false positives. File drawers are likely filled with less supportive
findings, and we suspect few researchers are actively working to contradict claims about nature’s
benefits. Nonetheless, there are reasons to remain optimistic. For example, publication status
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Capaldi, Passmore, Nisbet, Zelenski, & Dopko
does not moderate the relationship between nature connectedness and subjective wellbeing
(Capaldi et al., 2014). Additionally, researchers sometimes find unexpected beneficial effects of
nature (e.g., when exposure to videos of natural environments was used as a control condition,
in comparison to cognitive training; Borness, Proudfoot, Crawford, & Valenzuela, 2013).
Nevertheless, future meta-analyses should employ newer techniques that estimate and correct
for publication bias (e.g., Simonsohn, Nelson, & Simmons, 2014). The strongest evidence for
nature’s benefits—like other claims in psychological sciencewill require research that is
transparent and has strong pre-registered methods.
Nature is certainly not a cure for every ailment and mental health issue. Even so, the evidence
suggests that exposure to nature is a health and wellbeing promotion strategy that is
underutilized (and perhaps unknown) by mental healthcare providers. Many people have access
to some form of urban park, if not community garden, conservation area, or nature in their
backyard. For the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, nature interventions may
offer opportunities to enhance mood, reduce stress, and promote wellbeing, at relatively low
cost. Overall, evidence suggests that connecting with nature is a promising path to flourishing in
Colin A. Capaldi
Carleton University
Holli-Anne Passmore
University of British Columbia
Elizabeth K. Nisbet
Trent University
John M. Zelenski
Carleton University
Raelyne L. Dopko
Carleton University
Publishing Timeline
Received 7 July 2015
Accepted 28 October 2015
Published 18 December 2015
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... More recently, the benefits of nature-based interactions are becoming increasingly acknowledged across disciplines from Positive Psychology and Urban Planning to Medicine and Public Health. This research demonstrates a consistent positive trend between engagement with nature and improved physical and mental health outcomes [4,5]. Therefore, it is of significant concern that urbanisation, environmental degradation, and the challenges of modern living are leading to a reduction in engagement with the natural environment. ...
... While longacknowledged as practices across cultures, nature-based therapeutic interventions have grown substantially in number and type in recent years [1,8]. Western science is beginning to realise what Indigenous cultures have always known-engagement with the natural environment can support, enhance, and restore our health and wellbeing [5]. ...
... Additionally, there are interventions which revolve around more active engagement with nature. For example, green exercise programmes, ecotherapy [3,10], therapeutic horticulture, sea swimming initiatives, forest bathing and expedition-based wilderness programmes [5,8]. These interventions can be centred around green space, blue space, or an amalgamation of both. ...
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Several systematic reviews support the use of nature-based interventions (NBIs) as a mechanism of enhancing mental health and wellbeing. However, the available evidence for the effectiveness of these interventions is fragmentary and mixed. The heterogeneity of existing evidence and significant fragmentation of knowledge within the field make it difficult to draw firm conclusions regarding the effectiveness of NBIs. This mixed method umbrella review aims to synthesise evidence on the effectiveness of nature-based interventions through a summative review of existing published systematic reviews and meta-analyses. A systematic search in PsycINFO, PubMed, Greenfile, Web of Science, Embase, Scopus, Academic Search Complete (EBSCO), Environment Complete (EBSCO), Cochrane Library, CINAHL, Health Policy Reference Centre and Google Scholar will be performed from inception to present. The search strategy will aim to find published systematic reviews of nature-based interventions (NBIs) where improving health and wellbeing is an explicit goal. This is a mixed method review, and systematic reviews with both quantitative and qualitative data synthesis will be considered. Two authors will independently perform the literature search, record screening, data extraction, and quality assessment of each included systematic review and meta-analysis. The individual qualitative and quantitative syntheses will be conducted in parallel and combined in an overarching narrative synthesis. The quantitative evidence will be used to assess the strength and direction of the effect of nature-based interventions on mental health and wellbeing outcomes. Evidence drawn from qualitative studies will be analysed and synthesised to understand the various pathways to engagement, involvement process and experiential factors that may mediate experiences. The risk of bias of the systematic reviews will be assessed using a 16-item Assessment of Multiple Systematic Reviews 2 (AMSTAR2) checklist. Trail registration: This review is registered on PROSPERO (CRD42022329179).
... Due to the growing body of evidence for an association between spending time in natural environments and improved mental health [22], NBI are gaining traction as effective interventions to treat mental health conditions and mood disorders [23,24], assist cancer survivors [25] and enhance personal development [26]. The stress-reduction theory (Ulrich 1991) describes how exposure to natural environments prompt improved psychophysiological responses that lower stress [27,28], and aid in stress recovery [21,29]. ...
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Veterinary training is intense and represents a challenging time for students. Sadly, veterinary students are increasingly being diagnosis with a variety of concerning mental health issues including high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression, often resulting in poor academic performance. Because of the disproportionately high risk of mental health problems in the veterinary field, it is important that students learn, understand, and utilize simple and effective techniques to cope with stress, and demands of the profession. Spending time in natural environments such as outdoor parks, green spaces, and urban forests is an effective strategy for improving mental health. In this study, a nature-based intervention was used to examine if stress levels in veterinary students would be affected by repeated, structured time in a natural setting. Participants in this study reported significantly lower perceived stress levels compared to a control group. Students overwhelmingly reported that they would recommend this stress reduction technique to their classmates, and they planned to continue using time in nature to improve their mindset and reduce stress.
... In this piece, we contend that recent advancements in scholarly research on wellbeing can be meaningfully integrated into the field of climate psychology, an emerging field of psychology that examines the emotional and existential impacts of the unfolding climate crisis. We believe ideas within climate psychology compliment work from other fields including positive, community and environmental psychology, which have produced seminal work concerning individual, collective and planetary wellbeing (see Ryff, 1989;Diener, 2000;Capaldi et al., 2015;and Di Martino et al., 2017 for reviews), supporting understanding and effective responses to the unfolding climate crisis. Our paper begins by highlighting how traditional, western discourses of the nature of human beings and 'mental illness' drive personal dissatisfaction, social isolation, and ecological destruction. ...
Full-text available
Awareness of climate change can prompt overwhelming emotions that threaten wellbeing such as anger, despair, and anxiety. Neoliberal views of human beings and their mental health strip the individual from their social and material context, driving personal dissatisfaction, social isolation, and ecological destruction. In this piece, we contend that advancements in scholarly research on wellbeing offer valuable insights for addressing the challenges posed by the climate crises while respecting human wellbeing. Such frameworks, which include the Power Threat Meaning Framework (PTMF) and the GENIAL model, emphasize the interconnected nature of people, communities, and their environment. In turn, they help to lay the groundwork for the development of ‘post-growth’ societies focused on supporting outcomes such as human wellbeing, social justice, and environmental regeneration. There are a number of different actions that practitioners and even lay individuals can take to promote positive outcomes and effective responses in the face of the climate crisis. These actions, discussed in the concluding sections of the article, aim to foster wellbeing and impactful engagement with the challenges posed by climate change.
... The quality and quantum of natural assets make a major contribution to senses of place whilst ecosystem health is causally connected to human health 78,79 , for example in the presence of green and blue infrastructure and the ecosystem services associated with them which directly influence air-quality and counteract the urban heat island effect with strong health outcomes [80][81][82] . Mental health theories are compelling when considering the contribution of nature to place capital and its operationalised effects on health, especially E. O. Wilson's biophilic thinking about the innate or evolutionary instinct that drives humans to connect with the environment 83 . ...
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Great places have the potential to create enhanced health outcomes and improve quality of life. The positive connection between the built environment and the social determinants of health is well documented as is the role of the built environment in establishing place quality and sense of place. However, the relationship between the concepts of place capital and health capital is less understood and specifically the extent to which high levels of place capital confer a protective and restorative health benefit across the whole of life. COVID-19 changed our appreciation of the role that both health and place play in supporting our quality and way of life and has revealed the negative impact on wellness and wellbeing that arises when our connection to place is fractured. To contribute to the debate surrounding the post-COVID-19 city, this paper explores the intrinsic connection between place and health; it proposes a conceptual model that positions place capital as a tool for enhancing whole of life health capital at a neighbourhood scale. The Framework for measuring this place capital is created from traditional place literature and the new place context literature on the need to be inclusive, equitable and sustainable. It suggests that by building great places that are based on these measurable factors, there can be a reduction in the growth of medical spending and burden of disease over time.
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This chapter proposes a reflection on destination well-being as an overarching goal for destination development. Conceptualizing destination well-being as the quality of life of everyone involved, distinguishing tourists, residents and tourism workers, it discusses the state of research in terms of interactions among these groups and with the natural environment. The identification of research gaps, regarding especially the tourism workers and the feedback of the environment on everyone, as well as the differentiation of the groups according to their involvement, exposure and scope for interaction are presented as elements of a new research agenda. The contribution closes discussing the implication of setting destination well-being as an overarching goal for destination governance, opting for a re-territorialization of the strategy and a shift of strategic ownership from the DMO to the local political institutions. KEYWORDS: Destination well-being, Autobiographical memory, Stakeholder interactions, Destination governance
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Empirical research has proven that being connected to nature can have several psychological and physical benefits for human beings. Some of the most commonly discussed benefits include improvements in affect and well-being. However, a review of the available literature shows that this area remains relatively unexplored in the Indian context when compared with the West. Furthermore, several existing studies in this area have made use of qualitative data which is dependent, to an extent, on the interpretation of the researchers. Keeping in mind the benefits of connectedness to nature and the prevailing gap in research, the present study focused on making use of quantitative data in trying to find out whether there exists any relationship between connectedness to nature and subjective happiness and also between connectedness to nature and resilience in individuals living in India. Data was collected from 131 respondents on the Connectedness to Nature Scale (CNS), the Subjective Happiness Scale (SHS), and the Brief Resilience Scale (BRS) using snowball sampling. The data was analysed and correlated using Pearson's product moment correlation. Results showed the existence of a positive correlation between connectedness to nature and subjective happiness as well as between connectedness to nature and resilience, significant at the 0.01 level of significance. No significant difference was found between the mean scores of males and females. Future research should focus on developing a greater number of nature-based interventions and their implementation to benefit the community at large.
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This study investigates the role of mobile technology in the three stages (pre-visit, during-visit, and post-visit) of nature-based tourism (NBT) experiences. By employing collaborative autoethnography and reflexive thematic data analysis, this research explored the NBT experiences of four researchers who participated in a nature-based trek. The findings revealed that in the pre-visit stage, mobile technologies enhanced the NBT experience by enabling the flow of information for planning and mediating the anticipated experiences. Mobile technologies supported tracking well-being, documenting, and sharing the experience online in the during-visit stage. In the post-visit stage, mobile technologies allowed for reliving, reflecting, and sharing the experience. Using mobile technology in this NBT experience also led to some negative experiences, specifically interruptions that resulted in some participants' inability to truly immerse themselves in the experience. This study adds to the existing body of literature on NBT, highlighting the implications of technology, particularly mobile technology, for NBT experiences that can be capitalised on by visitors and destinations/service providers.
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Food waste has become a severe problem worldwide, causing adverse effects on the economy, society, and environment. Previous research on the determinants of food waste has been dominated by qualitative research, mainly focusing on the cognitive and emotional factors as antecedents but ignoring the impact of contextual factors (e.g., exposure to nature). Using three experimental studies, we examined the effect of exposure to nature on the intention to reduce food waste and the underlying psychological mechanisms. The results indicate that exposure to nature can increase an individual’s intention to reduce food waste. Moreover, self-transcendence mediates the relationship between exposure to nature and the intention to reduce food waste. Openness to experience moderates the indirect impact of exposure to nature on the intention to reduce food waste via self-transcendence, such that the positive impact of exposure to nature on self-transcendence disappears among individuals with low levels of openness to experience. The findings enrich our understanding of the relationship between exposure to nature and the intention to reduce food waste and provide policymakers and marketers with tools to increase individuals’ intention to reduce food waste by creating opportunities to engage with natural elements.
Technical Report
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The Outward Bound Trust commissioned this evaluation report which assesses the impact of a single day trips in nature based environments. The intervention involved supporting young people from a range of geographic locations and socioeconomic backgrounds to attend a one-day short course set in a nature-based environment. Young people aged 6-18 were asked to complete questionnaires across three time points (at the start of the day, at the end of the day and approximately 6-8 weeks afterwards). Only a small number of participants completed data at the third time point and so the primary analysis is focused on comparing data across the first two time points. Results showed that levels of nature connectedness, inclusion of nature in self, confidence in working as part of a group, and confidence in making new friends had all increased significantly at the end of the single day short course. This shows the positive impact that short courses in the outdoors can have for young people in the short term. However, no significant differences were found over time for looking after nature, or the two proxy measures of wellbeing – happiness and how good participants felt their life was. There was no significant difference for confidence in trying new things. It was not possible to assess the long-term impact of the short course as insufficient numbers of questionnaires were completed at the third time point. The outcomes support previous research by Leiflander et al. (2013) as the results indicate that the short course led to short term increases in nature connectedness, confidence in making friends, and working as part of a group and demonstrates the positive benefits that these types of short courses can have for young people. It is not possible to assess if any changes were maintained after the completion of the short course.
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Although research relying on self-report inventories has built an increased appreciation of the importance of meaning in life, such research has strayed somewhat from the original promise of meaning in life research, which was to shed light on the individual experience of meaning. Some research has focused on understanding people's sources of meaning. However, previous methods have relied on verbal ways of assessing sources of meaning in life. In recognition of the fact that not everyone has highly developed verbal skills -and that even those who do can find it hard to articulate what life means -we offer a new method for understanding individuals' experiences with meaning in life. In this article, we describe the use of photography to elicit information about people's sources of meaning and provide inductive qualitative analysis of a pilot study using this method. Photography holds great potential as a new method for seeing meaning through another's eyes.
Outdoor and adventure education has been shown to result in positive psychological outcomes. This paper connects positive psychology—specifically, strengths-based education—to important outcomes in outdoor and adventure education. Strengths-based education encourages participants to intentionally use their talents to achieve success in the environment in which they are placed. In this paper, we explain why, when, and how to use a strengths-based approach in outdoor and adventure education. An illustrative example of a strengths-based approach to an international adventure education course will be discussed. Quantitative and qualitative data demonstrate that this strengths-based educational program was effective in helping students achieve positive outcomes related to personal growth. This paper will conclude by offering directions for practice and future research.
The Collected Works of Ed Diener, in 3 volumes, present the major works of the leading research scientist studying happiness and well-being. Professor Diener has studied subjective well-being, people’s life satisfaction and positive emotions, for over a quarter of a century, and has published 200 works on the topic, many more than any other scholar. He has studied hundreds of thousands of people in over 140 nations of the world, and the Collected Works present the major findings from those studies. Diener has made many of the major discoveries about well-being, which are outlined in the chapters. The first volume presents the major theory and review papers of Ed Diener. These publications give a broad overview of findings in the field, and the theories of well-being. As such, the first volume is an absolute must for beginning scholars in this area, and offers a clear tutorial to the history of the field and major findings. The second volume focuses on culture. This volume is most unique, and could sell on its own, as it should appeal to cultural psychologists and anthropologists. The findings in the culture area are mostly all derived from the Diener laboratory and his students. Thus, the papers in this volume represent most of the major publications on culture and well-being. Furthermore, this is the area that is least well-known by most scholars. The third volume on measurement is the most applied and practical one because it discusses all the measures used, and presents new measures. Even for those who do not want to study well-being per se, but want to use some well-being measures in their research, this volume will be of enormous help. Volume 1: Gives a broad overview of findings and theories on subjective well-being. Volume 2: Presents most of the major papers on well-being and culture, and the international differences in well-being Volume 3: Presents discussions of measures of well-being and new measures of well-being, and is thus of great value to those who want to select measurement scales for their research Endorsements Over the past several decades Professor Diener has contributed more than any other psychologist to the rigorous research of subjective well-being. The collection of this work in this series is going to be of invaluable help to anyone interested in the study of happiness, life-satisfaction, and the emerging discipline of positive psychology. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Professor of Psychology And Management, Claremont Graduate University Ed Diener, the Jedi Master of the world's happiness researchers, has inspired and informed all of us who have studied and written about happiness. His life's work epitomizes a humanly significant psychological science. How wonderful to have his pioneering writings collected and preserved for future students of human well-being, and for practitioners and social policy makers who are working to promote human flourishing. David G. Myers, Hope College, and author, The Pursuit of Happiness. Ed Diener's work on life satisfaction -- theory and research -- has been ground-breaking. Having his collected works available will be a great boon to psychologists and policy-makers alike. Christopher Peterson, Professor of Psychology, Univ. of Michigan By looking at happiness and well-being in many different cultures and societies, from East to West, from New York City to Calcutta slums, and beyond, Ed Diener has forever transformed the field of culture in psychology. Filled with bold theoretical insights and rigorous and, yet, imaginative empirical studies, this volume will be absolutely indispensable for all social and behavioral scientists interested in transformative power of culture on human psychology. Shinobu Kitayama, Professor and Director of the Culture and Cognition Program, Univ. of Michigan Ed Diener is one of the most productive psychologists in the world working in the field of perceived quality of life or, as he prefers, subjective wellbeing. He has served the profession as a researcher, writer, teacher, officer in professional organizations, editor of leading journals, a member of the editorial board of still more journals as well as a member of the board of the Social Indicators Research Book Series. As an admirer of his work and a good friend, I have learned a lot from him, from his students, his relatives and collaborators. The idea of producing a collection of his works came to me as a result of spending a great deal of time trying to keep up with his work. What a wonderful public and professional service it would be, I thought, as well as a time-saver for me, if we could get a substantial number of his works assembled in one collection. In these three volumes we have not only a fine selection of past works but a good number of new ones as well. So, it is with considerable delight that I write these lines to thank Ed and to lend my support to this important publication. Alex C. Michalos, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., Chancellor, Director, Institute for Social Research and Evaluation, Professor Emeritus, Political Science, Univ. of Northern British Columbia
This paper sets out the findings of a systematic review of the research literature on the benefits that arise when children under 12 spend time in natural environments. The review also explored the relationship between these benefits and the style of children's engagement with nature. The findings support the view that spending time in nature is part of a “balanced diet” of childhood experiences that promote children's healthy development, well-being and positive environmental attitudes and values. It also points to the value of more playful engagement styles. The findings are relevant to the development of educational and planning policy and practice, and to advocacy work.
This study aimed at gaining knowledge of users' experience of green care services (interventions using nature to improve health) for people with mental health or drug problems. Data were obtained from interviews with 20 participants in green care services and were analyzed qualitatively. Findings revealed that work in a social context close to nature and work with animals increased mastery and meaningfulness. Participation resulted in personal changes, new practical skills, improved social networks, and feelings of well-being. There appears to be powerful potential in using green care services as a recovery tool for people with mental health or drug-related problems.