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Do We Need Nature to be Happy?

Posted by Geneviève Ferone on 23 June 2010

In these rather grim times dominated by political and scientific procrastination on environmental issues, where can we find a bit of reassurance?

Far from the tedious calculations and conceptions of models performed by climatologists of all persuasions – agnostics, skeptics, or apostates – can we approach ecological issues from another angle, with the humanities? Is there an ecology that is capable of making us happy, a gentle ecology that reconciles man with his environment?

We believe that beauty is structuring. Living in a beautiful environment, regardless of the highly subjective nature of beauty, is a source of well being and healing. Some environments are clearly healing for they allow us to keep at bay our difficulties and problems, creating a sort of psychological frontier beyond which a new space and time unfolds.

The behavioral sciences have largely highlighted the aesthetic qualities of certain places that elicit calm wonder and awe over those who contemplate them or merely walk through them.

Are we then justified in wondering if being connected to nature really does lead to a happier, healthier, and generally more mindful individual?

The American biologist Edward Wilson is father to the concept of “biophilia”, from ancient Greek and meaning “he who became friends with nature”. According to him, Man is attracted to nature, a drive that expresses his innate need to establish connections with the living world.

We are already perfectly aware that man maintains a utilitarian relationship with nature, upon which he depends for his very survival. Even separated, at least in appearance, from his natural environment, man continues to be attracted culturally and aesthetically to Nature.

The hypothesis of “biophilia” however goes further. It suggests that our genes have maintained the memory of the millions of years when man was one with his natural environment. Therefore, even disconnected, living in artificial urban environments, we protect this memory, this particular affective tie. Thus, experiments in behavioral psychology, with highly strict protocols, have shown that even broadly defined links with nature had a beneficial effect on human wellbeing. A hospital room or office overlooking a natural landscape would increase feelings of peace and reduce stress.

Happiness is not incompatible with the environment

If this hypothesis holds, then amputating all natural subjects from man’s existence would be depriving him of a source of personal development and happiness. Paradoxically, this same individual would also be deprived of humanity, as he would no longer be able to (re)connect with his inner nature. Jean Jacques Rousseau would approve…

Before sinking further into the planet’s wide spin, let’s examine the debate from another angle. Happiness is not incompatible with the environment, quite the contrary. There is no room here for sterile lamentations on paradise lost through human fault; those choruses will be put aside. We are here to find our way back to happiness, lightness, and grace. A calmer, more peaceful relationship with nature is part of this journey. It is in everyone’s interest not to permanently alter this universal bond for between me and myself lies Nature.

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