The positive effects of nature: healthy mind, happiness, and a boost of creativity

During the busy weekdays spent in the city, we tend to forget that long ago, we lived in untouched nature. Every now and then we need to get out of the city to re-energize in nature.

Jill Suttie has contributed significant findings to the Greater Good Science Center about the positive effects of nature on our body and brain health. We’ll keep it short! See below for reasons you should spend more time outdoors, and not on your couch:

Nature reduces stress. In a study conducted in Japan, participants were asked to either walk in a forest or in an urban environment. Those who walked in the forest had higher heart rate variability, a lower heart rate, less stress, a higher sense of relaxation, and more positive attitudes and feelings. Similarly, research conducted in Finland showed that participants who walked in a city park for at least 20 minutes had much lower stress levels than those who walked in the city centre. Scientists say that it’s because people evolved to feel better and harmonized in nature. Similar effects are gained by watching videos or hearing sounds that are related to the outdoors.

Suttie reports different studies that prove that nature boosts happiness. For example, researchers from Stanford University checked the emotional state of participants before and after taking a walk in natural and urban sites. The results were that participants who took a walk in nature were less negative, depressive and nervous, and had a more positive, open mindset.

Nature boosts creativity and releases attention. “Today, we live with ubiquitous technology designed to constantly pull for our attention. But many scientists believe our brains were not made for this kind of information bombardment, and that it can lead to mental fatigue, overwhelm, and burnout, requiring “attention restoration” to get back to a normal, healthy state,” says Suttie. She refers to a study that analysed a group of hikers who returned from their 4-day journey, and a group of people who were waiting indoors. Those who had just spent their time in nature could successfully accomplish puzzles that required creative thinking. Another scientist came to the conclusion that being in nature increases scores on cognitive tests because of “release of attention.” Suttie quotes Strayer: “If you’ve been using your brain to multitask—as most of us do most of the day—and then you set that aside and go on a walk, without all of the gadgets, you’ve let the prefrontal cortex recover,” says Strayer. “And that’s when we see these bursts in creativity, problem-solving, and feelings of well-being.”

It affects your kindness and makes you a livelier person. Researchers at the University of California conducted experiments where they observed people playing two economics games. They noticed that when players looked at magnificent nature scenes before playing, they behaved more generously and felt more trustful. Again, beautiful nature boosts positive emotions.

Nature is a resource you don’t need to pay for to make yourself feel better, healthier and more creative. Put on your shoes and go outside to feel the breeze and gain some energy!

The original post “How Nature Can Make You Kinder, Happier, and More Creative” was published on Greater Good Science Center homepage, March 2, 2016 (written by Jill Suttie)