I’ve been watching the Ken Burns series on the history of America’s national parks (highly recommended). I’ve noticed how many of the people he interviews or quotes talk about how they love being surrounded by natural settings because of the way it makes them feel. The repeated message seems to be that there is something about nature that resonates in the human psyche. Some recent research indicates that this may be more than a subjective judgement. Spending time outside in nature makes people feel more energetic, according to researchers who completed five separate studies that looked at both actual time spent in natural settings and imagined time in such settings. The researchers took into account the effect of physical activity and the socializing that tends to go on when people are hiking or camping together, and found that the increased energy could not be attributed entirely to these mood boosters. It’s evidently due to something about nature itself.
This is an interesting finding, especially the part about how as little as 20 minutes of time outside in nature during the day can be enough to trigger the energy boost. Indiana University’s master plan for the Bloomington campus involves planting lots of trees, restoring an urban waterway (the Jordan river), and creating more pleasant walking paths. There are a lot of reasons that all of this is a good idea, but maybe part of the benefit to campus inhabitants will be that it makes them feel good to spend time outside among the trees or walking along the river.
This article from Science Daily has more information, and the full article is:
Richard M. Ryan, Netta Weinstein, Jessey Bernstein, Kirk Warren Brown, Louis Mistretta, Marylène Gagné. Vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 2010; 30 (2): 159 DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2009.10.009.