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Feeling blue? Take notice of nature to boost happiness

If you’re feeling down, a trip outside to reconnect with nature may be just what you need to boost happiness, a new study claims.

Spending time in the great outdoors each day can help to increase personal well-being, the researchers found – no travel required. Just be sure to take time to pay attention to your natural surroundings and how they make you feel.

“This wasn’t about spending hours outdoors or going for long walks in the wilderness,” said Holli-Anne Passmore, a doctoral student at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan. “This is about the tree at a bus stop in the middle of a city and the positive effect that one tree can have on people.”

Nearly 400 study participants spent two weeks on an “intervention” intended to boost happiness. They were asked to spend time outside each day, document the natural world around them, and explore how the plants, trees and wildlife made them feel.

Each participant was asked to photograph any part of nature that caught their eye, from a bird or squirrel to a week growing from the sidewalk, and write down a short note about how it made them feel.

A second group did the same exercise but with man-made objects like statues and buildings, and a third control group did neither.

The study participants turned in nearly 2,500 photos and notes. Researchers found that for those in the nature group, simply being aware of their surroundings had participants reporting a happiness boost and a greater connection to their community.

“The difference in participants’ well-being – their happiness, sense of elevation, and their level of connectedness to other people, not just nature – was significantly higher than participants in the group noticing how human-built objects made them feel and the control group,” Passmore said.

The study is one of several that the University of British Columbia’s psychology researchers have undertaken to explore how nature is connected to well-being. The researchers hope to add to the scientific documentation showing the benefits of green spaces in urban landscapes.

The study has been published in the Journal of Positive Psychology.

By Kyla Cathey, staff writer

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