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

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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 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
colin_capaldi@carleton.ca
Copyright belongs to the author(s)
www.internationaljournalofwellbeing.org
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ARTICLE
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.
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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
1
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.
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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
2
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
exception).
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,
2009).
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).
3
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).
4
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
3
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.
4
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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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
life.
Authors
Colin A. Capaldi
Carleton University
colin_capaldi@carleton.ca
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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Capaldi, Passmore, Nisbet, Zelenski, & Dopko
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... Många samstämmiga studier redovisar en minskning av stressnivåer och stresshormoner (kortisol, adrenalin och noradrenalin), en minskad risk för hjärt och kärlsjukdomar samt en minskad risk att drabbas av depression och annan stressrelaterad psykisk sjukdom (exempelvis utmattningssyndrom). Det finns också starka bevis för att effekten kan komma relativt snabbt: känslor av ilska och sorg minskar medan känslor av glädje och nyfikenhet ökar (Bowler, et al. 2010;McMahan & Estes, 2015;Capaldi et al. 2015;van den Berg et al. 2015;Egorov et al. 2016;Lee et al. 2017;van den Bosch & Ode Sang, 2017;Hansen et al. 2017;Oh et al. 2017;Putra et al. 2018;Payne & Delphinus, 2018;Vujcic et al. 2019). ...
... Vissa av dessa kvaliteter gynnar social samvaro medan andra kvaliteter gynnar fysisk aktivitet eller vila och avstressning (Nilsson et al. 2019;Stoltz & Grahn, 2021). Flera systematiska översikter förklarar att det finns starka bevis för att besök i naturområden och urbana grönom råden med mycket naturlig grönska förbättrar emotionellt välbefinnande genom att öka positiva känslor och minska negativa känslor (McMahan & Estes, 2015;Bowler, er al 2010;Capaldi et al. 2015;Egorov et al. 2016;van den Bosch & Ode Sang, 2017). Lee och kollegor (2017) hävdar att det finns starka bevis för signifikanta positiva samband mellan besök i urbana grönområden med mycket naturlig grönska och lägre risker för depression. ...
Book
Full-text available
Indikatorer för hälsopromoverande urbana grönområden Exempel på en s.k. friskrivnings rapport utan logotyp men med författarnamn
... Considering the indoor workplace of office workers and given the restorative effects of exposure to (virtual) natural environments on well-being (Bowler, Buyung-Ali, Knight, & Pullin, 2010;Capaldi, Passmore, Nisbet, Zelenski, & Dopko, 2015;Kaplan, 1995;Ulrich et al., 1991;White et al., 2021) and mood (Berman, Jonides, & Kaplan, 2008;Mayer, Frantz, Bruehlman-Senecal, & Dolliver, 2009), we seek to investigate whether virtual microexposure to natural environments after a stressful work task can uplift mood. As past research findings suggest office workplaces to have a detrimental effect on eating behavior (Clohessy, Walasek, & Meyer, 2019), and mood swings have been associated with cravings and increased high-calorie snacking (Cardi, Leppanen, & Treasure, 2015;Schmidt & Martin, 2017;Udo et al., 2013), we also investigate whether microexposure to natural environments could improve snacking choices. ...
... Furthermore, similar benefits also extend to the virtual environment. The exposure to pictures or videos of natural settings has shown to provide benefits in terms of mood (Mayer et al., 2009;McAllister, Bhullar, & Schutte, 2017;McMahan & Estes, 2015;Stewart & Haaga, 2018), stress recovery (Van den Berg et al., 2015), cognitive function (Berman et al., 2008), and attention (Lee, Williams, Sargent, Williams, & Johnson, 2015), as well as psychological well-being (Bratman et al., 2019;Capaldi et al., 2015;Gilchrist, Brown, & Montarzino, 2015;White et al., 2021). ...
... Such connection encompasses aspects of cognition and affect. For instance, higher levels of nature connectedness are associated with improvements in cognitive function including attention, memory, executive function, learning and creative potential, while impacts on affect encompass positive mood, improvements to psychological wellbeing and restorativeness (Capaldi et al., 2015;Kasap et al., 2021;Richardson et al., 2016). The authors further highlight that nature connectedness is associated with feelings of awe and self-transcendent experiences, reinforcing the relevance of nature to the promotion of existential positive psychology, described in the chapter by Wong and colleagues. ...
Chapter
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This chapter reviews some of the key ideas emerging from the heterogeneous discipline of wellbeing science and presented in this book by individual contributors, encompassing perspectives from psychological scientists, public health professionals, and economic and political theorists. Contributions document a wide range of issues including the expansion of positive psychology to existential issues, including hardship, suffering and levels of scale that usually lie beyond the remit of the field; the application of positive psychotherapy and acceptance and commitment therapy at multiple levels, facilitating opportunities that would not have otherwise emerged; developments in ecopsychology, highlighting opportunities for individual and collective action to cultivate connections to nature and nature-based conservation; perspectives from public health, focused on building population wellbeing, contextualised by forward thinking government legislation from an emergent wellbeing economy; reflections on the structural limitations of mainstream economics, impacting on the appropriate allocation of resources for a transformation of society; and a critique of the neoliberal model of development from the perspective of social, material and planetary wellbeing. Perspectives are distinct, although overlapping and complementary, providing a strong foundation for an emerging interdisciplinary and even, transdisciplinary model of wellbeing, encompassing the individual, community and planet.
... Supporting this proposition, less nature exposure during childhood has been associated with fewer recreational nature visits as an adult (Rosa et al., 2018;Taye et al., 2019;Pensini et al., 2016; Ward Thompson et al., 2008;Hosaka et al., 2018; although see also van Heezik et al., 2021). Given that adult nature visits independently predict better well-being (Capaldi et al., 2015;Cox et al., 2017;Shanahan, et al., 2016;White et al., 2017White et al., , 2019White et al., , 2021van den Berg et al., 2016), limited childhood nature exposure may come at a cost to mental health across the lifespan. Certainly, spending time in nature as a child has been linked to better subjective well-being and a lower risk of are: 'external regulation' (i.e., behavior controlled by external demand or incentives such as tangible rewards or punishment avoidance); 'introjected regulation' (i.e., doing something for a sense of pressure to avoid guilt and shame and to obtain a feeling of pride or worth); 'identified regulation' (i.e., acting as one feels it is personally important and congruent with one's own goals and values); and 'integrated regulation' (i.e., behavior fully integrated into personal values and beliefs). ...
Article
Contact with natural environments is associated with good health and well-being. Although childhood nature experiences may be important in the development of an individual's relationship with nature and subsequent well-being, previous studies have tended to focus on ‘nature’ in general, and the mechanisms by which childhood experiences influence well-being in adulthood remain insufficiently studied. Drawing on cross-sectional survey data from an 18-country sample (N = 15,743) the current work extended previous research by examining: a) blue spaces (coasts, rivers, lakes, etc.) in particular; b) associations between adults' recalled childhood exposure to blue spaces, frequency of recent visits to green and blues spaces, and adult subjective well-being; c) the role of childhood exposure to blue spaces on intrinsic motivations to spend time in nature; and d) the consistency of these relationships across different countries. Tests of a model where childhood exposure to blue spaces was linked to adult subjective well-being serially through intrinsic motivation and then recent blue and green space visits exhibited a good fit, a pattern largely consistent across all 18 countries. However, an alternative model where recent visits predicted intrinsic motivation also demonstrated good fit, indicating that these processes may be iterative. Building familiarity with and confidence in and around blue spaces in childhood may stimulate a joy of, and greater propensity to spend recreational time in, nature in adulthood, with positive consequences for adult subjective well-being.
... People who are connected to nature tend to have greater eudaimonic well-being, finding an especially strong relationship between personal growth and being deeply engaged in nature in an emotional, experiential, or cognitive way (Nisbet et al., 2011;Capaldi et al., 2015;Pritchard et al., 2020). Thus, the conceptual understanding of connection and engagement with wilderness could have many gateways. ...
Article
Full-text available
Experiences of awe can carry the potential for life-transforming experiences and foster awareness of nature as a lifelong value. How these experiences emerge was investigated empirically in a pristine natural environment and analyzed informed by a bottom-up perspective with an interdisciplinary understanding of environmental aesthetics and positive psychology. A group of Arctic nature guide students (n = 34) was followed on an 8-day advanced glacier course with additional learning topics related to the Arctic landscape and history, wildlife, and how to protect a wilderness camp from polar bear attacks. After this experience, students were invited to participate in the research project and were asked to reflect on their experiences immediately after their return to civilization. Two narratives each from 27 participants were collected, which provided 54 quotations for interpretation. Reflexive thematic analysis (RTA) surfaced three main themes: context, human response to encounters with nature, and transformation. The study of awe brings the tension between spirituality and well-being closer. The findings add empirical knowledge to the understanding of the contexts for these highly affective and complex feelings. The findings also add refined knowledge about the relationship between awe and the sublime. In transformation for human well-being, the role of self-knowledge or self-transcendence surfaced by wilderness experiences should not be underestimated.
... Such connection encompasses aspects of cognition and affect. For instance, higher levels of nature connectedness are associated with improvements in cognitive function including attention, memory, executive function, learning and creative potential, while impacts on affect encompass positive mood, improvements to psychological wellbeing and restorativeness (Capaldi et al., 2015;Kasap et al., 2021;Richardson et al., 2016). The authors further highlight that nature connectedness is associated with feelings of awe and self-transcendent experiences, reinforcing the relevance of nature to the promotion of existential positive psychology, described in the chapter by Wong and colleagues. ...
Preprint
Full-text available
This is a preprint of the following chapter: Kemp, A.H. & Edwards, D.J., ‘Discussion: Broadening the Scope of Wellbeing Science’, to be published in Broadening the Scope of Wellbeing Science: Multidisciplinary and Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Human Flourishing and Wellbeing, edited by A.H. Kemp & D.J. Edwards, (forthcoming), Palgrave Macmillan, reproduced with permission of Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The final authenticated version will be made available online once published.
... There are various theories regarding the widely accepted researchbased evidence that nature and well-being are strongly connected (Wilson, 1984;Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989;Ulrich et al., 1991). Attention restoration theory (Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989) is based on the notion that directed attention is a limited resource that becomes fatigued after time, leading to negative emotional states such as tiredness, irritability, and lower cognitive performance (Capaldi et al., 2015). Natural environments provide opportunities to get away from everyday stress, engage involuntary attention with rich stimuli, and allow people to act without constantly monitoring their behaviour (Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989). ...
Article
Full-text available
Activities in natural environments greatly enhance human well-being and can support the integration of foreigners into a new country. This article explores how residents from different ethnic backgrounds in Turku, Finland appreciated and engaged with urban natural environments and how this engagement benefitted their well-being and, ultimately, their integration. Individuals enjoy activities in nature in particular ways, which may vary according to a person’s physical, social, and psychological characteristics. This is especially true for immigrants who apply traditions from their home countries to the ways in which they interact with their new environment and enjoy activities in nature. Three dimensions of nature experience—social, emotional, and normative—emerged from the research, which, in turn, supported well-being and different types of integration: interactive, identificational, and cognitive. We argue that because these dimensions are an integral part of a person’s identity and cultural background, familiarity with them may prove pivotal to constructing more welcoming and intercultural urban natural environments. Different approaches to engaging with nature should be considered in the design of urban environments and urban nature, as well as in integration programmes, to enhance the well-being and integration of foreign-background populations.
... Studies in this area show increased well-being and pro-ecological behaviour due to enhanced nature connectedness. 77 Virtual reality systems could be developed to facilitate urban habitat tours for the technologically minded. These could include interactive macroscopic displays of microbial communities while providing information on the composition and functional roles that microbes play in the local ecosystems [3 refers, f]. ...
Article
Full-text available
Background: Microbiome-Inspired Green Infrastructure (MIGI) was recently proposed as an integrative system to promote healthy urban ecosystems, through multidisciplinary design. Specifically, MIGI is defined as nature-centric infrastructure restored and/or designed and managed to enhance health-promoting interactions between humans and environmental microbiomes, whilst sustaining microbially-mediated ecosystem functionality and resilience. MIGI also aims to stimulate a research agenda that focuses on considerations for the importance of urban environmental microbiomes. Objectives: In this paper we provide details of what MIGI entails from a bioscience and biodesign perspective, highlighting the potential dual benefits for human and ecosystem health. We present ‘what is known’ about the relationship between urban microbiomes, green infrastructure and environmental factors that may affect urban ecosystem health (ecosystem functionality and resilience as well as human health). We discuss how to start operationalising the MIGI concept based on current available knowledge, and present a horizon scan of emerging and future considerations in research and practice. We conclude by highlighting challenges to the implementation of MIGI and propose a series of workshops to discuss multi-stakeholder needs and opportunities. Discussion: This article will enable urban landscape managers to incorporate initial considerations for the microbiome in their development projects to promote human and ecosystem health. However, overcoming the challenges to operationalising MIGI will be essential to furthering its practical development. Although the research is in its infancy, there is considerable potential for MIGI to help deliver sustainable urban development driven by considerations for reciprocal relations between humans and the foundations of our ecosystems –– the microorganisms.
Article
Nature connection is positively associated with wellbeing and pro-environmental behaviours. However, the mediators of these relationships remain under-explored. This study examines the mediation effects of nature contact on the relationship between nature connection and wellbeing, and between nature connection and pro-environmental behaviours. Two types of nature contact are explored, routine weekly contact with urban nature (public urban nature spaces), and routine weekly time spent in a private, home outdoor area. A cross-sectional survey was administered to adult (≥ 18 years) residents of Brisbane, Australia, in May 2017 (N=1000). Using regression analysis and causal mediation analysis, our study shows that 1) nature connection is positively associated with wellbeing and pro-environmental behaviours; 2) nature contact is a mediator of the relationship between nature connection and wellbeing, with weekly private outdoor contact accounting for 15–16% of the positive association, and weekly urban nature contact accounting for 24–31%, and 3) nature contact is a mediator of the relationship between nature connection and pro-environmental behaviour, in the form of conservation volunteering, with weekly private outdoor contact accounting for 10–13% of the positive association and weekly urban nature contact accounting for 14–19%. We conclude that the associations between nature connection and wellbeing and pro-environmental behaviours are mediated by nature contact. Urban planners and policymakers should consider opportunities for urban residents to have weekly access to and contact with urban nature, both at home and in urban neighbourhoods, as a way to promote the co-benefits of enhanced wellbeing and pro-environmental behaviour through nature connection.
Chapter
Encountering the unfamiliar in outdoor learning settings can offer opportunities to reassess the value of learning experiences, especially those in which the educational value rests upon factors which emerge—unexpectedly—from the environment itself. This chapter explores how discomfort in association with unfamiliar environments arises, and what potential might be held in these experiences for transformative learning to occur. The chapter draws upon the experiences of secondary school aged students (15–18 year olds). Across three examples from UK outdoor educational practice, the case is made that such encounters on the threshold of familiarity are important components of a transformative education, arising as emergent and unpredictable aspects of learning in unfamiliar settings.
Article
Full-text available
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.
Article
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.
Book
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
Article
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.
Article
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.