Why Nature Makes Us Happy
Imagine yourself in an outdoor space surrounded by trees, green grass, and the sounds of birds chirping and leaves rustling. You see the blue sky and sun above you, feel the soft breeze tickling your skin, and smell the bark on the trees. You notice the activity around you: the leaves gently swaying on the trees, the birds traveling from branch to branch, and the critters scurrying among the plant life on the ground. After returning back home, you may feel different. Even if you started your day stressed or overwhelmed, you may find yourself now feeling happy, relaxed, and calm. These are the health benefits of nature at work.
This practice of being in nature and experiencing it with all of your senses is called forest bathing. Forest bathing is already actively encouraged in other countries. People in Japan and Korea practice forest therapy in “healing forests,” and Finland recommends spending at least 5 hours in nature per month to help prevent depression. Forest therapy has also made its way to the United States, leading to the development of the Association for Forest and Nature Therapy and their Certified Forest Therapy Guide program.
The benefits of nature go beyond simply improving mood. Here are 5 research-backed benefits that you may experience from spending time in nature.
1. You can improve how your body handles stress.
In one study, stressed adults who spent time in a forest had decreased stress hormones, blood pressure, and heart rate compared to those who spent time on a city street. They also had less anxiety and a better mood.
2. You may behave more generously.
Research found that adults who looked at a tree for one minute practiced more generous behaviors afterward compared to adults who looked at a building.
3. You may have a more positive outlook on life.
When you’re outside in a natural environment, your prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain associated with negative thoughts) becomes less active. This can help you be more creative and positive.
4. You may be more alert.
When you use your senses to experience the nature around you, the brains put out more alpha waves, which make you more calm and alert. You also may feel more energized and enthusiastic, which can help you tackle tough tasks at work.
5. Your body’s natural killer cell activity can increase.
Natural killer cells are a part of the body’s immune system and are important for cancer prevention.