The New Economics Foundation Five Ways to Wellbeing from 2008 provide straightforward and popular guidance on the steps we can take to look after human wellbeing and they can be applied to nature based activities. People have also found that our 5 pathways to nature connectedness provide a valuable framework for engaging people with nature – for both human and nature’s well-being. I’m often asked how the two might work together, so this blog post suggests 5 Ways to Wellbeing – with Nature.
The 5 pathways to wellbeing are based on an evidence report that, in 317 pages, includes no specific nature based solutions. There are just two sentences noting that access to green space contributes to well-being. Similarly, guidance on the 5 ways to wellbeing from the NHS & Mind overlooks nature – we seem to be obsessed with ourselves, other humans and our work, but not the natural world that sustains us. So it’s no surprise that a subsequent NEF report on applications also provides very little on the role of nature based solutions, with brief mention in planning policy of ‘opportunities to traverse green space’ on foot or bike can influence activity levels. Green space is not just an environment to cross – we can pause to take notice. Ten years on it’s time for an update that reflects the latest evidence and ‘one health’ perspective.
This situation is no surprise as despite increasing recognition of the health and well-being benefits we get from nature, and a connection to it – nature is not apparent in our everyday lives, in models of workplace wellbeing and models of health. Recently a ‘One Health’ model of health in BMJ Global recognises that humans are embedded within the rest of the natural world – that the fundamental pathway to wellbeing is a healthy planet. Key guidance on wellbeing such as the 5 ways to wellbeing should recognise this.
Curiously, the role nature plays in our wellbeing is recognised in policy, for example the UK Government’s 25YEP. Further, the latest evidence suggests nature connectedness is additive and more important for wellbeing than visiting natural places. Nature connectedness also brings pro-nature conservation and pro-environmental behaviours – essential as the one way to a global crisis in wellbeing is an unhealthy planet – and we’re currently heading to a permanently unhealthy world.
So let’s combine the 5 ways to well-being with the 5 pathways to nature connection and propose 5 Ways to Wellbeing with Nature:
Connect – social relationships are important for wellbeing, be with and talk to people – about anything, about nature! We are social animals and as part of the wider natural world nearby nature also helps us feel connected – nature offers socially isolated people a way of feeling connected. Connecting with the beauty of nature also brings pro-social behaviours.
Take notice – be aware of the world around you, savour the moment, notice nature. Noticing nature, its beauty, your emotions in nature and what it means to you are key to developing a closer relationship with nature – which is good for you and provides something to talk to others about.
Give – take part in community life, do something for a friend – do something for nature.
Be active – walk or cycle when you can, to green spaces to connect with others, to notice, to give and learn – connect actively with nature. Research shows that activity in natural environments also brings greater benefits than exercise elsewhere.
Learn – try something new, rediscover your childhood wonder for nature, learn that people are part of the wider natural world and nature matters for human health.
So, in sum the overlap between the 5 ways and 5 pathways can be seen as follows:
Connect – with nature, bringing together the 5 pathways to nature connectedness – Senses, Beauty, Emotion, Meaning & Compassion.
Take Notice – of nature – Senses, Beauty, Emotion, Meaning are pathways to nature connection.
Give – Compassion and caring for nature is a pathway to nature connection and a healthy planet.
Be active – connect actively with nature.
Learn – Learn about your relationship with nature, share your experiences.
As you can see there’s plenty of scope to include the benefits of nature, and connection to it, within the pathways. There’s a need to revise and widen existing human-centered guidance on the 5 pathways to wellbeing which overlooks nature. Because it’s easy, because nature needs to be in our health, and in every decision we make. As ultimately there’s no wellbeing without nature’s wellbeing.