A strong connection with nature lies at the heart of a healthy life and a healthy planet – but how do we increase people’s nature connection? That is my research focus and such increases need to be sustained and achieved as part of our everyday lives. The good news is that our recent paper shows how simply noting ‘3 good things in nature’ each day for a week leads to longer term increases in nature connection.
There is a growing need to reconnect people with nature owing to the state of nature, links to pro-environmental behavior and the benefits to human health and well-being. Connecting people more fully with nature is emerging as an important construct and a societal issue related to several recent high profile campaigns (e.g. by the David Suzuki Foundation in Canada; The Wild Network; The Wildlife Trusts and RSPB). Given the acknowledged benefits and interest, simple interventions to increase people’s connectedness to nature in a sustained manner are needed.
Previous work has considered wilderness experiences and camps for improving nature connection, but that’s time consuming and difficult to embed in daily routines – and follow-ups looking for sustained increases often aren’t included. Also, urban landscapes are increasingly the typical location for our interactions with nature, although nature gets overlooked by many. Therefore, the underlying rationale for 3 Good Things in Nature stems from calls to value ‘nearby nature’.
The approach was suggested by my personal experience of reconnecting with nature through writing about nature during 250+ local walks in 2011 – published as Needwood and A Blackbird’s Year and analysed in Richardson and Hallam (2013). Although extended writing can have well-being benefits, is not a practical intervention for many, but brief positive psychology interventions (PPIs) are. They have been found to be effective in improving happiness and well-being and the PPI we adapted is writing three good things a day, usually for a week or two.
We also had to design the instructions for three good things in nature. For example, the nine dimensions of biophilia and themes from my extended writing (Richardson and Hallam, 2013) suggest that naturalistic and aesthetic dimensions are key to developing a connection with nature. The aesthetic dimension was seen as particularly important, it links well to one of the four elements of Attention Restoration Theory, and being tuned into the beauty of nature has been related to well-being benefits. Finally, although the three good things in nature task is not about systematic mindful practice, it has been informed by intentionally attending to whatever arises in the present moment – because mindfulness has been shown to strengthen connection with nature.
So, to gather the evidence required to support the idea, we asked 50 people (general population rather than nature lovers) to note three good things in nature each day for five days and a control group (42 people) noted three factual things (e.g. what they had to eat). Two months later, the 3 good things in nature group showed sustained and significant increases in nature connectedness compared to the control group. Increases in nature connection also helped explain improvements in psychological health – supporting our work that suggests nature connection mediates well-being.
We also analysed what people wrote about in a sister paper, 1000 good things in nature published in 2015 (although the intervention was the first research of its type when conducted in 2013/14, we struggled to find a journal that was interested in a simple tool to increase the emerging concept of connection with nature). The content analysis of the sentences revealed ten themes – the things people note as being the good things in nature. These themes helps us understand the routes to connection with nature and represent the functional aspect of the intervention. The key aspects were sensations, changes over time, active wildlife, beauty and the interaction of the weather with natural forms. These five themes accounted for over 70% of the sentences that people wrote as they went about their day-to-day activities in a predominately urban landscapes, helping us understand how to engage people with nature in an everyday context – focus on the senses, change, activity and nature’s beauty. Or simply ask people to note the good things in nature each day – that’s what we’ll be asking the people of Sheffield to do next year in our on-going IWUN research project.
Richardson, M. & Sheffield, D. (2017). Three good things in nature: Noticing nearby nature brings sustained increases in connection with nature. Psyecology.
Richardson, M., Hallam, J., & Lumber, R. (2015). One thousand good things in nature: Aspects of nearby nature associated with improved connection to nature. Environmental Values, 24(5), 603-619.
Richardson, M., & Hallam, J. (2013). Exploring the psychological rewards of a familiar semirural landscape: Connecting to local nature through a mindful approach. The Humanistic Psychologist, 41(1), 35-53.