Want to have an easier time acting on environmental issues? Find a(nother) source of meaning or purpose? Be happier? There’s one simple thing you can do to achieve all three: go for a walk.
Mayer and McPherson Frantz of Oberlin College developed a fourteen-question Connectedness With Nature scale that measures whether someone believes that they are a part of or separate from the rest of nature, and they found that respondents with higher scores were not only more likely to engage in pro-environmental behaviours (everything from daily lifestyle choices to career) but were also significantly happier. “The magnitude of this correlation [between a connection with nature and happiness],” they write, “is similar to the magnitude for variables like marriage … education … and income within countries.”
In other words, nothing to sneeze at. But how do you go about increasing your sense of connection to nature? It’s as simple as going outside. Subsequent studies have shown that spending even small amounts of time in non-human environments–even wild-animal parks or, in some cases, watching nature videos (though the effects were not as large)–increases a person’s sense of connection to nature.
Which probably explains why this running-biking-park walking-gardening nature-lover can get a tank of gas to last for three months and is spending her work-life and her free time on environmental issues (my score on the scale was about 4.99/5; the mean was about 3.6 and most people fell between 3 and 4.2. I’d post it here but I’m cautious about copyright infringement). It might also be why as a type 1 diabetic single mom of a little girl with an undiagnosable genetic form of dwarfism I am, most of the time, pretty happy, even though I spend a couple of hours every day steeped in climate catastrophe, mass extinction and ecosystem collapse.
Anecdotal evidence, I know. But what do you have to lose? Go for a walk.
Schultz, Wesley P. & Jennifer Tabanico. “Self, Identity and the Natural Environment: Exploring Implicit Connections with Nature.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology (2007) 37: 6.
Mayer, F. Stephan & Cynthia McPherson Frantz, “The connectedness to nature scale: A measure of individuals’ feeling in community with nature.” Journal of Environmental Psychology 24 (2004) 503-515
Mayer, F. Stephan et. al. “Why is Nature Beneficial?” Environment and Behaviour (2008). http://eab.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/0013916508319745v1