UTTechMedTechMed CentreNewsObserving nature makes you happier

Observing nature makes you happier

Various studies have been conducted in recent years exploring how paying attention to nature can affect our well-being. A preliminary systematic review of these studies, conducted at the University of Twente, has shown that participants generally experience significantly more well-being compared to control groups. Their subjective experience of happiness is greater and they are better able to give direction to their lives. 'What's interesting about this is that it involves relatively simple exercises that everyone can apply immediately', says Prof. Ernst Bohlmeijer, Professor of Mental Health, who coordinated the systematic review. The research has been submitted to the Journal of Positive Psychology.

Participants in a range of nature observation studies were often instructed to pay additional attention to the nature around them for 20 minutes each day over a week or a two-week period. They were generally told to take in the good or positive aspects of nature and try to notice the emotions that nature evoked in them. After returning home, participants had to write a brief report of what they had seen and experienced. Participants were able to take a daily walk for this purpose but could also do it at other times, for example when returning home from work.

Contact with nature

There are various possible explanations for why observing nature increases the feeling of happiness and mental well-being. Paying particular attention to positive things in life generally results in an increase in positive feelings. And positive emotions are essential for our well-being and our capacity to adapt. Nature in particular can evoke such emotions as awe, calm, joy and wonder. One well-known theory postulates that people naturally have a relationship with nature. Contact with nature causes people to experience a feeling of connection that makes us happy. This would suggest that nature could also contribute to reducing fear and anxiety and increasing trust.

Prof Ernst Bohlmeijer

It would appear that paying attention to nature can put people at ease and creates a healthy distraction.

Prof Ernst Bohlmeijer

Interested in participating in the study?

Many of the studies in our review have so far been conducted in the UK and Canada and are not always of high quality. For example, the number of participants in some of the studies was low and the long-term effects were often not investigated. The University of Twente intends to conduct further research into the relationship between nature and well-being. 'Of course, there's a lot happening in the world and many people are worried. Our aim is to investigate whether being in nature can help you to feel calmer and experience a greater sense of connection. We’re also eager to understand whether any effects may persist over a longer period', says Ernst Bohlmeijer. A study is scheduled to begin soon and is open to anyone aged 18 and older. Further details can be found at www.utwente.nl/natuur.

Publication: Ruan, X., Kraiss, J.T., Tonis, K., Richardson, M., van Rompay, T., Bohlmeijer, E.T. (2024) Effectiveness of Nature-based Positive Psychology Interventions on Well-being: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis submitted to the Journal of Positive Psychology.

drs. J.G.M. van den Elshout (Janneke)
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