A few years ago, I wrote a blog post ‘Connecting to nature, what is it and how do you do it?’ Since then, this term ‘connecting to nature’ has become the new buzz word used liberally to describe any time spent in contact with nature. However, wether you realise it or not you experience nature directly all day every day, the air you breathe, the sun on your skin, the water in the tap, walking under the trees, to name but a few ways. You might have also perceived nature i.e. looked at it from afar through a window, or you might have thought about nature, dreaming of your summer cocktails on the beach. That does not necessarily mean connection. So I would like to expand on my previous definition and explain further what this concept means and how it relates to health and wellbeing.
People who have researched the topic extensively define nature connection as:
“Connectedness with nature is a sustained awareness ..of the interrelation between one’s self and the rest of nature..(reflected in) consistent attitudes and behaviours” (Zylstra et al 2014 )
“The extent to which an individual includes nature within his/her cognitive representation of self.” (F.S. Mayer, C.M. Frantz 2004)
Say what?! These are indeed existential statements that we could spend pages delving into but at the heart they are talking about our sense of relationship with self, others and nature; as it turns out these relationships are at the heart of what we know as wellbeing.
Let me explain! Health is a term that refers to a state of good physical and mental functioning, it has an objectiveness to it in that it can be measured and tested and boxes can be ticked. Wellbeing, on the other hand is otherwise known as spiritual health and it refers to: ‘intuitive inner feelings and beliefs that give purpose, meaning and values to life (Fisher, 2011) i.e. how you intuitively feel about yourself, your health and your quality of life. Contrary to popular belief, spiritual wellbeing does not necessarily relate to religion at all. It can not be measured but is often described in the literature as being the most influential aspect of health (Chuengsatiansup. K 2003) . You can have for example great physical fitness but if you don’t feel like your life has meaning, in studies, when asked about their wellbeing people rate it low.
The way we experience positive wellbeing (spiritual health) is through our relationships with self, others and nature and in some cases people may also have a relationship with an ‘existential other . When our relationship is positive we may say we feel connected; connected to our selves like we are living true to our values for example. We will feel connected to others in strong supportive relationships and we can now go back to Mayer and Frantz or Zylstra above and see that connection to nature is about feeling a strong sense of interrelationship, like the other is part of our ‘selves’. Stephanie Radock puts it beautifully:
“Clearly all people do come from and belong to the earth…..identification with life forms beyond your own increase your empathy and respect for the world and embed you in a big family of relatives and relationships.” (Radock 2012)
The kind of words that people associate with a strong connection to nature is words like empathy, awe, belonging, zest. To come back full circle, the meaning behind these words is clearly different from the indifference of contact. Its not to say that contact can’t lead to a sense of connection or rekindle a sense of connection of course it can but its often a certain kind of contact or experience and that is a story for another day.
1.Chuengsatiansup. K (2003) Spirituality and health: an initial proposal to incorporate spiritual health in health impact assessment. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 23(1) pp. 3-15. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/hia/examples/overview/whohia203/en/
2. Dhar.N, Chaturvedi, S.K., Nandan, D. (2011) Spiritual Health Scale 2011: Defining and Measuring 4th Dimension of Health Indian J Community Med. Oct-Dec; 36(4): 275–282. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3263147/
3.Fisher, J. (2011) The Four Domains Model: Connecting spirituality, Health and Wellbeing. Religions, 2, 17-28.
4. F.S. Mayer, C.M. Frantz. (2004) The connectedness to nature scale: A measure of individuals’ feeling in community with nature
5.Radock, S. ‘an opening: twelve love stories about art (2012) Wakefiled Press, South Australia