Citizen Science: Restoring the Bay, Healing the Mind
What motivates somebody to become an environmentalist? An interest in ecological systems? A desire to protect the environment? A yearning to make the world a better place?
Well-known environmental educator Mitchell Thomashow suggests that people are called to environmentalism not only because they want to make the world a better place, or because they are interested in the subject matter, but because environmentalism speaks to something deep within them.
Over the past several decades, a group of environmental psychologists have dedicated themselves to unpacking this deep connection between people and the environment. These researchers are guided by questions like: why is it that some people tread so lightly on the planet, while others seem to want to actively destroy it? Or, what is the best way to encourage pro-environmental behaviour in a population?
In seeking to answer these questions, researchers discovered a personality trait which they call nature connectedness. People who have higher levels of nature connectedness tend to identify more strongly with the natural world, care more about it, and want to take action to protect or restore it. It’s no surprise that people who work in environmentally-related fields tend to score higher on tests for nature connectedness.
Inspired by environmental writers such as John Muir and Henry David Thoreau—who both experienced the healing powers of the natural world—environmental psychologists have also explored the relationship between nature connectedness and mental health. A handful of studies now illustrate that Muir and Thoreau were on to something: nature connectedness has been shown to predict life satisfaction, autonomy, personal growth, and psychological, social, and emotional well-being.
Or, to put it more simply, people who are more connected to nature also seem to be pretty happy.
The discovery of this relationship between nature connectedness and mental health has profound implications for our planet. In a world characterized by rising sea levels, and rising rates of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, connecting people with nature might be a potent remedy for both.
So, consider this: by volunteering the next time BARC organizes a marsh planting or other environmental initiative, not only will you be helping to bring back the Bay, you will also be nourishing something deep within yourself. It’s a win-win.
Cervinka, R., Röderer, K., & Hefler, E. (2012). Are nature lovers happy? On various indicators of well- being and connectedness with nature. Journal of Health Psychology, 17(3), 379–88. doi:10.1177/1359105311416873
Thomashow, M. (1995). Ecological Identity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Zelenski, J. M., & Nisbet, E. K. (2012). Happiness and Feeling Connected: The Distinct Role of Nature Relatedness. Environment and Behavior, 46(1), 3–23. doi:10.1177/0013916512451901