June 23, 2019
The Healing Power Of Nature
Dr. Andrew Lee, a public health researcher at the University of Sheffield in England, who has conducted large reviews of green-space research, says the functionality of parks is paramount for making people feel happy. “If it’s a social space, where people meet together and chat and go on walks, that kind of social contact and interaction builds social networks,” Lee says. “That’s probably where the real impact is coming from that gives people a sense of wellbeing.”
Parks without those features do the opposite. If a green space is difficult to get to, has poor lighting or is not clean, it may be seen as unsafe or inaccessible and probably wouldn’t boost a visitor’s mood, explains Lee
People may also experience the benefits of green spaces in unique ways. Lots of research assumes that humans have an evolutionary connection to nature or that people enjoy green spaces because they remind them of childhood experiences, says Sarah Bell, a research fellow at the University of Exeter’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health. But that expectation can feel exclusionary to low-income communities or disabled people who may not have had access to nature growing up, says Bell.
“It doesn’t necessarily come naturally to people,” Bell says of nature appreciation. “But even if you haven’t had childhood experience, life transitions can make these settings become quite meaningful.” Life transitions, like sudden health changes, the end of a job or something that causes a high level of stress, can make nature more important to people, she says.
The secret to using nature as a mood booster in these situations, Bell says, is to find activities in a green space that match the outcome you want. For some people, that may be going to a quiet park to escape their daily routine, while others use nature to challenge themselves and might prefer something strenuous like mountain biking or surfing. Still others may find comfort in nature when they interact with animals or other people.
If you know what you want to get out of your visit, any welcoming green space can help.