As the strangeness of our social world continues to unfold, I've been feeling a yearning to be outside, to be out in nature. I've been reflecting on why this is, and what being in nature does for us.
A study in 2010 showed that being out in nature left people feeling more alive. "Nature is fuel for the soul, " says Richard Ryan, the lead author and a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. "Often when we feel depleted we reach for a cup of coffee, but research suggests a better way to get energized is to connect with nature," he says. His study showed that imagining being in nature also had beneficial effects, which is good to know when you are stuck indoors and not able to actually go out.
Other studies have suggested that the very presence of nature helps to ward off feelings of exhaustion and that 90% of people report increased energy when doing outdoor activities. It has also been shown people are more caring and generous when exposed to nature.
Why is this? It seems to me that it is easy to forget that we are alive, living, just like the rest of the natural world. Being out in nature is in a sense going back to our roots, feeling the connection we have with everything else that lives. People often talk about a sense of relaxing, of tension leaving them, and of feeling less alone when they are in the natural world. It may be the feel of the wind, the sound of waves on a beach, or the vista from a mountain that helps you feel connected, or perhaps all three. We are all different, but it is a common experience that the natural world has restorative benefits.
Why not take the opportunity this summer to get out in nature often, whether it be to walk or run, to nurture the plants in your garden, or to get right out in the wilderness? You might be surprised at the effects on your sense of well-being if you do.