The unique bond between human beings and wilderness
We often seek comfort in the lap of nature, be it a walk, yoga & meditation, some quality time with family or friends, a romantic getaway, the “me time”, or simply to find solace & peace of mind in a quiet place to brush off the everyday hustle. The natural landscapes and wilderness such as mountains, beaches, valleys, and forests can truly kindle the innermost feelings of happiness and peace, and Environmental Psychology has proved this fact through its deep research (Bell, Fisher, Baum, Greene, 1996).
Nature holds the power to comfort us, relax us, relieve us, and calm us. The natural landscapes and wilderness are our happy-go-lucky places. Due to the in-depth research in Environmental Psychology, we all now have a basic understanding that nature and mental health are interconnected with each other. World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which a person realizes his/her own potential, can deal with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is in a position to make a contribution to his/her community”. Thinking up in this way, mental health encircles two important elements:-
- The absence of mental illness
- The presence of psychological well-being.
Undoubtedly, the natural places promote psychological well-being, and have positive effects on our mental well-being. Along with mental health, staying close to nature also improves our physical and spiritual well-being. Various emotional or affective components and conceptual or cognitive components of psychological well-being can be attained by natural landscapes & wilderness such as:-
- Hedonic happiness
- Self-actualization (optimism and wisdom)
- Personal growth
- Purpose in life
- Healthy relationships (positive relations with others)
- Lack of mental distress (e.g. stress and loneliness).
Spending time with nature ignites the feeling of taking care of ourselves and others. Developments like urbanization, technology, machinery, and social media can never replace the essence & healing power that the nature possesses. Natural scenic beauty makes us feel alive from the inside.
The natural places & wilderness even fuel the creativity within us. Reading books, creative writing, creating art journal etc. hit differently when enjoyed in a natural landscape – the ideas and thoughts are expressed so effortlessly.
NATURE HEALS. NATURE SOOTHES. NATURE RESTORES. NATURE CONNECTS! Natural landscapes & wilderness can do wonders more than we can think of. Let’s explore the gifts of nature.
- It helps in coping with depression, loneliness, OCD, bipolar disorder, and other mental issues.
- It lowers down the feelings of stress, anxiety, anger, and fear. Research has also shown that the stress recovery rate is much higher in those people who are exposed to natural landscapes than the ones who get stuck in urbanized ambiances.
- Natural places increase pleasant feelings, and improve self-confidence & self-esteem.
- It helps us in coping with pain and discomfort.
- It helps in improving our mood swings – depressed, stressed & anxious mood can be turned into more calm, cheerful, and balanced by spending some time with nature.
- Connecting with nature helps us to connect better with one another. It promotes feelings of helping and supporting one another. Sympathy, compassion, and empathy can be attained by staying close to nature.
- Natural landscapes motivate individuals to stay fit & healthy. Forest bathing is a famous way of spending time in the lap of nature. This concept is known as “Shinrin-yoku” in Japan. Research has shown that people who practice forest bathing and take frequent walks or trips into the wilderness have optimum nervous system functions, and well-balanced heart conditions.
- Individuals who indulge in outdoor games or activities are less fatigued and have fewer chances of suffering from obesity.
- It also improves physical conditions such as hypertension, cardiac illness, and chronic pain.
- It sharpens memory functions.
- A strong bond with natural environment strengthens emotional regulation, enhances emotional well-being, and lightens the feelings of social isolation.
- Spending time with nature has the power to increase our problem-solving skills and bring out the undiscovered creative abilities within us.
- Strong connections with natural landscapes and wilderness result in high concentration & focus, better performance and attention span, and reduced chances of developing “Attention Deficit Disorder”.
- Staying close to nature and wilderness blossom feelings of gratitude & appreciation in us.
- Natural places & wilderness hold the power to eliminate negative emotions and restore the positive emotions in us. Nature sparks positive thinking and better coping mechanisms in us.
- Breathing in natural places intensifies our sensory awareness. Spending time with nature makes us more mindful of what we see, hear, smell, taste, and feel.
- Individuals who maintain regular contact with nature have reduced feelings of sadness, frustration, and anger than those who have less nature interaction.
Now, imagine being in a place savoring the beautiful green and brown hues of tall trees, colorful flowers spreading their aroma, bright rays of sun piercing through the trees from the sky, sound of flowing water & chirping of birds, soft breeze touching your skin, and the sun-kissed feels. All of this can refresh one’s mood in a blink of an eye. At times there is a strong urge to escape to a place with scenic beauty. Even the thought or a visual of any natural place brings smile on our faces, and cheers up our mood.
Have you ever wondered why this happens? Why do we feel so empowered and motivated when we are connected to nature? What is the bond between natural landscapes & wilderness and human beings?
Well, a study named “Psychological Needs Satisfaction and Attachment to Natural Landscapes” has found out that people’s attachment to the natural spaces & wilderness is connected to the fulfillment of some basic psychological needs. The study has been authored by Adam C. Landon, Kyle M. Woosnam, Gerard T. Kyle, and Samuel J. Keith. The study is published in a peer-reviewed academic journal named “Environment and Behavior” which is published by SAGE Publications.
The study suggests that the reason behind the feelings of attachment to wilderness landscapes is the nature’s ability to fulfill the basic psychological needs of –
- Autonomy (the need for independence or freedom)
- Competence (the ability to do something successfully or efficiently, the need to develop mastery by overcoming challenges)
- Relatedness (the state or fact of being related or connected, the need to connect with others)
Why and how do people form attachments with the physical spaces they inhabit? This question has been the purpose of a lot of research. However, the way individuals create a bond & connection with natural spaces and wilderness landscapes remains a sort of mystery, which broadens the research area on it. Based on this, the study authors Adam C. Landon and his team mates hypothesized that it might have something to do with the fulfillment of some psychological needs. According to Landon, who is a scientist at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and adjunct assistant professor, the psychological processes that stimulate humans’ connection to nature are truly fascinating. He believes that it is essential to understand the value people hold for nature, and he thinks that “place attachment” falls under this umbrella.
Adam C. Landon, along with his team mates has stated that “the role of nature in psychological functioning and well-being has caught attention up to great extent, and their study is basically founded on this itself, in order to demonstrate that wilderness surroundings enhance psychological functioning”.
The authors of the study took inspiration from Ryan and Deci’s Self-Determination Theory, and considered three psychological needs (autonomy, competence, and relatedness) as the cause or basis of human motivation.
A survey was conducted on a sample of 795 Americans by Landon and his team. These people had recently visited a natural area within the Southern Appalachian region. During the survey, the subjects were told to think of a wilderness landscape which is special to them, and they were asked questions drafted to evaluate their place attachment to that particular area. The assessments included three dimensions of place attachment – place identity, emotional attachment, and place dependence. The subjects were also questioned on how their chosen wilderness landscape fulfilled their needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
In the study, significant associations & interconnections were found between each of the psychological needs and each of the place attachment dimensions. According to Landon, their study is a cross-sectional one, and their approach provides strong evidence for a connection between psychological needs satisfaction and the development of place attachment. Experimental research is yet to be done.
Adam C. Landon told that people give significance to those physical spaces that support and fulfill their psychological needs of autonomy in their behavioral choices, feelings of competence, and relatedness.
In spite of the limitations, this study provides strong evidence on a link between human’s connections to nature and the fulfillment of some basic psychological needs.
An American architect, writer, and educator “Frank Lloyd Wright” had said, “Study Nature, fall in love with Nature, stay connected with Nature. It will never fail you”. And, it certainly seems true!
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