Why A Bit Of Nature Can Make You Happier

March 2017Words by Mr Adam Welch

Mr Bob Dylan outside his Byrdcliff home in Woodstock, NY, 1968. Photograph by Mr Elliott Landy/Magnum Photos

If an alien arrived on Earth right now and attempted to form an opinion of humanity based solely on social media, it would probably assume we all spend a huge amount of our time climbing up mountains, jumping in waterfalls and watching the sun slowly set over glittering seas. It would be wrong. The reality is that, since 2008, a majority of the global population have lived and worked in cities, which means that contemporary humanity spends an awful lot of its time in offices and subways, or at home, basking in the blue-light glow of our laptops and mobile phones. This, according to author and journalist Ms Florence Williams, whose book The Nature Fix is released this month, is not doing us much good.

The Nature Fix, subtitled “Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative” was a project inspired by Ms Williams’ personal experience of urbanization, after she and her family moved from the Rocky Mountains to the “hyper-urb” of Washington, DC. “It got me thinking,” she says. “My migration parallels that of people globally from rural to urban areas. I wanted to know the implications for me, and also for society at large.” In pursuit of this knowledge, Ms Williams spent several years travelling the world to talk to scientists and researchers involved in measuring the effects of nature on the human psyche, visiting places as diverse as the University of Pennsylvania’s sound lab (to investigate noise pollution) and Japan’s Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, to experience shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing.”

In the course of the book, she marshalls all the available (and sometimes, admittedly, contradictory) evidence to explain why the human psyche has an irreversible connection to nature, and how via brief immersions in (or “doses” of) the natural world, we can improve our physical and mental wellbeing. “In some ways, it’s like a longterm marriage,” she says. “Is it time to institute a regular date night?” Intrigued by this proposition (and looking for a good excuse to book a wild country getaway), MR PORTER caught up with Ms Williams to ask her delve further into some of her discoveries.