Exploring the Pathways to Nature Connectedness: A Key to Improved Health and Sustainable Wellbeing
The Pathways to Nature Connectedness, Nature Connectedness Research Group
The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.
― W.B. Yeats
The benefits of a strong relationship with Nature on human health and wellbeing have long been recognized, but the pathways that lead to nature connectedness have only recently been explored by researchers (Richardson et al., 2020).
According to the Nature Connectedness Research Group, Nature Connectedness:
"captures the relationship between people and the rest of Nature. Nature connectedness is a measurable psychological construct that moves beyond contact with Nature to an individual's sense of their relationship with the natural world."
A strong connection with Nature means feeling a close relationship or an emotional attachment to our natural surroundings. Connectivity and a sense of belonging to Nature improve cognitive, sensory, and social development while stimulating physical activity, positive emotions, and increasing our value of the natural world.
In a study by Lumber et al. (2017), five pathways were identified that could help people develop a stronger connection to Nature: sensory contact, emotion, beauty, meaning, and compassion.
These pathways have informed the design of interventions to grow nature connectedness and provide associated benefits, such as pro-environmental and pro-nature conservation behaviors, and improved mental wellbeing.
However, the study also found that other types of relationship with Nature, such as fear of Nature and dominion over Nature, were unrelated to nature connectedness. These negative relationships with Nature are often emphasized in capitalistic societies and, unchecked, have led to environmental degradation.
Greater focus on the pathways that lead to nature connectedness could help establish a new, more sustainable relationship with the natural world (Richardson et al., 2020).
Although time spent in Nature is linked to short-term increases in nature connectedness, simple exposure to greenspaces, such as a park, does not always lead to sustained improvements in nature connectedness.
Active engagement with Nature through the five pathways is essential for increasing nature connectedness.
Traditional outdoor programs that focus on challenge and adventure in Nature have not been found to increase nature connectedness.
In contrast, less prescriptive outdoor activities that allow for individual exploration of the physical environment have been found to be important in growing a connected relationship with Nature (Richardson et al., 2020).
The five pathways approach has been used as a framework to guide programs that aim to increase nature connectedness.
One successful intervention involved asking participants to note three good things in Nature each day for five days, which resulted in sustained and significant increases in nature connectedness two months later (Richardson et al.,2015).
The pathways to Nature connectedness provide clear direction for society to foster a new, more sustainable relationship with Nature. Active and passive engagement with Nature through sensory contact, emotion, beauty, meaning, and compassion can improve mental wellbeing and
pro-environmental and pro-nature conservation behaviors.
Incorporating the pathways approach into interventions aimed at increasing nature connectedness can result in sustained increases in nature connectedness and associated benefits for human health and wellbeing and Nature's health and wellbeing.
The human-nature relationship is in crisis, as evidenced by the climate emergency and loss of biodiversity. Standards, policy, and infrastructure are vital, but weak leverage points in achieving a deeper connection with Nature (Richardson et al., 2020).
Small policy changes can contribute to a paradigm shift and reinforce the importance of our relationship with Nature.
Researchers outline several policy changes that could inform and reinforce such a paradigm shift.
Education policy could promote a curriculum with Nature at its heart, engaging learners with the natural world throughout. Transport policy can celebrate the beauty of the natural world, while planning policy should emphasize net biodiversity gain.
Housing, whether public or private, can be integrated with beautiful natural spaces. Arts policy can support installations that prompt engagement with Nature, while health policy can incorporate the 'One Health' model that emphasizes the connections between human, animal, and environmental health. (Richardson et al., 2020).
Bringing Care Outdoors
Residential continuing care communities and home health care professionals can develop care and engagement practices that bring older adults outdoors and engaging with Nature daily. Grow Nature connectedness and understand that engaging with Nature is a
form of care.
It is also advantageous for residential care communities to be designed as 'green care communities', incorporating the design qualities of green care farms.
Access to sunlight and the outdoors, window views of trees, gardens, and ponds, privacy, autonomy, and a non-institutionalized atmosphere are essential design qualities of residential green care farms.
While long-term care homes in the United States have outdoor areas, they are often not accessible without aid, and care is generally not practiced outdoors.
The evidence-based pathways to Nature connectedness provide individuals and communities with a way to cultivate a renewed relationship with the natural world.
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Orr, N., Wagstaffe, A., Briscoe, S., & Garside, R. (2016). How do older people describe their sensory experiences of the natural world? A systematic review of the qualitative evidence. BMC geriatrics, 16, 1-16.
Lumber R, Richardson M, Sheffield D. 2017. Beyond knowing Nature: contact, emotion, compassion, meaning, and beauty are pathways to nature connection. PloS One. 12(5):e0177186. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0177186
Richardson M, Hallam J, Lumber R. 2015. One thousand good things in Nature: aspects of nearby Nature associated with improved connection to Nature. Environ Values. 24(5):603–619. doi:10.3197/096327115X14384223590131.
Richardson M. 2019. Beyond restoration: considering emotion regulation in natural well-being. Ecopsychology. 11(2):123–129. doi:10.1089/eco.2019.0012.
Richardson M, Passmore H-A, Hunt A, Thomas R. 2020. The green care code: how nature connectedness and simple activities help explain pro-nature conservation behaviours. People Nat. 2:821–839. doi:10.1002/pan3.10117.
Richardson, M., Dobson, J., Abson, D. J., Lumber, R., Hunt, A., Young, R., & Moorhouse, B. (2020). Applying the pathways to nature connectedness at a societal scale: a leverage points perspective. Ecosystems and People, 16(1), 387-401.