Nature Is So Good For You That Even Watching It On TV Improves Well-Being

Watching a few minutes of “Planet Earth” can lead you to feel 46 percent more awe and 31 percent more gratitude.


Published:

Photo by Chang Qing on Unsplash

Humans have long intuited that being in nature is good for the mind and body. From indigenous adolescents completing rites of passage in the wild, to modern East Asian cultures taking “forest baths,” many have looked to nature as a place for healing and personal growth.

Why nature? No one knows for sure; but one hypothesis derived from evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson’s “biophilia” theory suggests that there are evolutionary reasons people seek out nature experiences. We may have preferences to be in beautiful, natural spaces because they are resource-rich environments—ones that provide optimal food, shelter, and comfort. These evolutionary needs may explain why children are drawn to natural environments and why we prefer nature to be part of our architecture.

Now, a large body of research is documenting the positive impacts of nature on human flourishing—our social, psychological, and emotional life. More than 100 studies have shown that being in nature, living near nature, or even viewing nature in paintings and videos can have positive impacts on our brains, bodies, feelings, thought processes, and social interactions. In particular, viewing nature seems to be inherently rewarding, producing a cascade of position emotions and calming our nervous systems. These in turn help us to cultivate greater openness, creativity, connection, generosity, and resilience.

In other words, science suggests we may seek out nature not only for our physical survival, but because it’s good for our social and personal well-being.

How Nature Helps Us Feel Good And Do Good

The naturalist John Muir once wrote about the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California: “We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us.” Clearly, he found nature’s awe-inspiring imagery a positive, emotive experience.

But what does the science say? Several studies have looked at how viewing awe-inspiring nature imagery in photos and videos affects emotions and behavior. For example, in one study participants either viewed a few minutes of the inspiring documentary Planet Earth, a neutral video from a news program, or funny footage from Walk on the Wild Side. Watching a few minutes of Planet Earth led people to feel 46 percent more awe and 31 percent more gratitude than those in the other groups. This study and others like it tell us that even brief nature videos are a powerful way to feel awe, wonder, gratitude, and reverence—all positive emotions known to lead to increased well-being and physical health.

Positive emotions have beneficial effects upon social processes, too—like increasing trust, cooperation, and closeness with others. Since viewing nature appears to trigger positive emotions, it follows that nature likely has favorable effects on our social well-being.

This has been robustly confirmed in research on the benefits of living near green spaces. Most notably, the work of Frances Kuo and her colleagues finds that in poorer neighborhoods of Chicago, people who live near green spaces—lawns, parks, trees—show reductions in ADHD symptoms and greater calm, as well as a stronger sense of connection to neighbors, more civility, and less violence in their neighborhoods. A later analysis confirmed that green spaces tend to have less crime.

Viewing nature in images and videos seems to shift our sense of self, diminishing the boundaries between self and others, which has implications for social interactions. In one study, participants who spent a minute looking up into a beautiful stand of eucalyptus trees reported feeling less entitled and self-important. Even simply viewing Planet Earth for five minutes led participants to report a greater sense that their concerns were insignificant and that they themselves were part of something larger compared with groups who had watched neutral or funny clips.

Several studies have also found that viewing nature in images or videos leads to greater “prosocial” tendencies—generosity, cooperation, and kindness. One illustrative study found that people who simply viewed 10 slides of really beautiful nature (as opposed to less beautiful nature) gave more money to a stranger in an economic game widely used to measure trust.

All of these findings raise the intriguing possibility that, by increasing positive emotions, experiencing nature even in brief doses leads to more kind and altruistic behavior.

How Nature Helps Our Health

Besides boosting happiness, positive emotion, and kindness, exposure to nature may also have physical and mental health benefits.

The benefits of nature on health and well-being have been well-documented in different European and Asian cultures. While Kuo’s evidence suggests a particular benefit for those from nature-deprived communities in the United States, the health and wellness benefits of immersion in nature seem to generalize across all different class and ethnic backgrounds.

Why is nature so healing? One possibility is that having access to nature—either by living near it or viewing it—reduces stress. In a study by Catharine Ward Thompson and her colleagues, the people who lived near larger areas of green space reported less stress and showed greater declines in cortisol levels over the course of the day.

In another study, participants who viewed a one-minute video of awesome nature rather than a video that made them feel happy reported feeling as though they had enough time “to get things done” and did not feel that “their lives were slipping away.” And studies have found that people who report feeling a good deal of awe and wonder and an awareness of the natural beauty around them actually show lower levels of a biomarker (IL-6), which could lead to a decreased likelihood of cardiovascular disease, depression, and autoimmune disease.

Though the research is less well-documented in this area than in some others, the results to date are promising. One early study by Roger Ulrich found that patients recovered faster from cardiovascular surgery when they had a view of nature out of a window, for example.

A more recent review of studies looking at different kinds of nature immersion—natural landscapes during a walk, views from a window, pictures and videos, and flora and fauna around residential or work environments—showed that nature experiences led to reduced stress, easier recovery from illness, better physical well-being in elderly people, and behavioral changes that improve mood and general well-being.

Why We Need Nature

All of these findings converge on one conclusion: Being close to nature or viewing nature improves our well-being. The question still remains…how?

There is no question that being in nature—or even viewing nature pictures—reduces the physiological symptoms of stress in our bodies. What this means is that we are less likely to be anxious and fearful in nature, and thereby we can be more open to other people and to creative patterns of thought.

Also, nature often induces awe, wonder, and reverence, all emotions known to have various benefits, promoting everything from well-being and altruism to humility to health.

There is also some evidence that exposure to nature affects the brain. Viewing natural beauty (in the form of landscape paintings and video, at least) activates specific reward circuits in the brain associated with dopamine release that give us a sense of purpose, joy, and energy to pursue our goals.

But, regrettably, people seem to be spending less time outdoors and less time immersed in nature than before. It is also clear that, in the past 30 years, people’s levels of stress and sense of “busyness” have risen dramatically. These converging forces have led environmental writer Richard Louv to coin the term “nature deficit disorder”—a form of suffering that comes from a sense of disconnection from nature and its powers.

Perhaps we should take note and try a course corrective. The 19th century philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote about nature, “There I feel that nothing can befall me in life—no disgrace, no calamity (leaving me my eyes), which nature cannot repair.” The science speaks to Emerson’s intuition. It’s time to realize nature is more than just a material resource. It’s also a pathway to human health and happiness.

This article was originally published by greatergood.berkeley.edu. It was been edited for YES! Magazine.

Kristophe Green is a senior Psychology major at UC Berkeley. He is fascinated with the study of positive emotions and how they inform pro-social behavior such as empathy, altruism and compassion.

Dacher Keltner is the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center and a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. 

See also:
Bringing The Weather Indoors
Forest Bathing: Mindfulness Meets Nature

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

January 21, 2019

Minutes after midnight the Leo Moon is Full. This is a complex, powerful Supermoon, when the Moon is closest to earth in its orbit. The Moon’s gravitational impact on tides as well as emotions is maximized. Expect shocking revelations, sudden endings and…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

January 2019

Join acupuncturist and eastern medicine specialist Linda Davis to: 1) Learn and practice a simple method to access your pendulum’s divination powers; 2) experience various types of...

Cost: $20–$25

Where:
Portal Crystal Gallery
489 Massachusetts Ave
Arlington, MA  02474
View map »


Telephone: 781-859-5373
Website »

More information

Once used as a diagnostic tool for physicians, the palms and hands give us insight into physical health and emotional well-being. Learning to decipher the differences in hands and the meanings...

Cost: $250

Where:
The Soul Purpose
1225 Gar Highway
Swansea, MA  02777
View map »


Sponsor: The Soul Purpose
Telephone: 774-264-1329
Contact Name: Jessica Kozak
Website »

More information

Celebrating the new year, the new you!  Come detox, relax and get your new year readings while you recharge in our sanctuary! We have a fun line up of readers and healers providing...

Cost: $60- 3 Service package special; $25 - single service

Where:
Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Road
Suite A
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey Smith
Website »

More information

Did you know that forgiveness heals? It can reduce depression, ease anxiety, increase our well-being, and facilitate the body's natural healing response. Many of us may get the concept of...

Cost: $60

Where:
private office
North Andover, MA  01845


Sponsor: Diana Harris
Telephone: 978-973-6637
Contact Name: Diana Harris
Website »

More information

The most powerful things in the universe are invisible. Energy which is the most powerful of physical and spiritual forces is invisible. The most precious and important things that matter in...

Cost: Free

Where:
Inner Space Meditation Center & Gallery
1110 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA  02138
View map »


Telephone: 617-547-1110
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Show More...
Show Less...

MBSR: Mindful Based Stress Reduction Mindfulness, as taught in the MBSR program, is recognized worldwide as the gold standard in mindfulness training and is one of the greatest...

Cost: Free

Where:
Life Care PT
38 Southwest Cutoff
Northborough, MA  01532
View map »


Sponsor: The Center for Resilient Living
Telephone: 508-556-7022
Contact Name: Ginny Wholley
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

“Master your breath, let the self be in bliss, contemplate on the sublime within you.” —Krishnamacharya Join us for an evening of deep exploration and transformation using...

Cost: $30 (limited hardship rates available)

Where:
Spontaneous Celebrations
45 Danforth Street
Jamaica Plain, MA  02130
View map »


Telephone: 617-233-6410
Contact Name: Allen B. Howell
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Listen as Lauren channels messages from loved ones to prove you are never alone. An intimate event with tested and endorsed research medium.  Visit website for tickets. Doors open at 6:30...

Cost: $50

Where:
The Spiritual Path with Lauren Bortolami
129 N. Main Street
Mansfield, MA  02048
View map »


Sponsor: Lauren Bortolami Robbins
Telephone: 508-339-8111
Contact Name: Lauren Robbins
Website »

More information

With Sherri Snyder-Roche. This yoga workshop will explore self-compassion, self-love and pushing through discomfort to help your recovery process. Recovery from divorce, eating disorders,...

Cost: $95 for 6 weeks or $17 drop in

Where:
State of Grace Yoga and Wellness Center
104 E. Hartford Avenue, Unit A
Uxbridge, MA  01569
View map »


Telephone: 508-278-2818
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Women Rising Together—Women’s Workshop This workshop is designed for women who are facing a challenge and would like to come together with other spiritually minded women to explore...

Cost: $25

Where:
Apple Tree Arts
1 Grafton Common
Grafton, MA  01519
View map »


Contact Name: Christine Johnson

More information

Intuitive medium Laura Wooster is honored to present this evening of spirit messages from your loved ones on the other side. She will deliver evidential messages of love, hope, and comfort from...

Cost: $25

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street
Suite 1-A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

Holistic Problem-Solving with Dr. HermanSJr. Tired of missing opportunities that could further your life, your education, even your work? Tired of missing threats that continue to hold back your...

Cost: $100

Where:
Caffe Nero
368 Congress Street
Boston, MA  02210
View map »


Telephone: 321.30.PSYCH(7792)
Contact Name: Soni
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Instructor: Stacey Piwinski Adult Level Spend half a winter’s day working with warm, cozy, and colorful yarn! Each participant will learn to weave their own circular weaving, starting...

Cost: $65

Where:
Creative Spirit
80 Washington Street
Marblehead, MA  01945
View map »


Sponsor: Creative Spirit
Telephone: 781-797-0389
Contact Name: Peyton Pugmire
Website »

More information

Start this intensive January 26 This is an excellent series for those who are on a healing journey of any sort, as we access the Akashic field of energy to clear your path and...

Cost: $860 or three payments of $366

Where:
, MA


Telephone: (978) 835-0005
Contact Name: Nancy

More information

Holistic Problem-Solving with Dr. HermanSJr. Tired of missing opportunities that could further your life, your education, even your work? Tired of missing threats that continue to hold back your...

Cost: $100

Where:
Caffe Nero
368 Congress Street
Boston, MA  02210
View map »


Telephone: 321.30.PSYCH(7792)
Contact Name: Soni
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags