Deep down, we believe everyone has an innate love of nature. Through thousands of years, humans have evolved to favour certain natural surroundings - not just because they make us feel better, happier, or less stressed, but because they improved our chances of survival.
Our biophilic connection to nature has been well evidenced with over 1,000 studies confirming the positive relationship between humans and the natural world.
Yet, our relationship with nature is sporadic and fleeting. We’re now spending over 90% of our time indoors, a marked shift from our evolutionary past. We’re losing our physical access to the natural world, while at the same time, causing significant environmental damage.
We need a rich connection with nature not just to improve our own health and wellbeing, but to make more responsible environmental decisions too. Nature should form as much a part of our indoor surroundings as it does outdoors, fitting in with modern life.
Our answer to this is Environmental Wellbeing. It’s a term we’ve introduced that explores the positive relationship natural surroundings have on our wellbeing, placing nature at the heart of our health and happiness.
It is a term to connect nature, wellbeing and technology, and explores how we can better harness natural surroundings in reconnecting us to the natural world.
Wellbeing is defined as “the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.” We often split it in two – our physical wellbeing representing the health of our body and the behaviours we undertake like exercise and nutrition, and mental wellbeing representing the health of our mind, including our ability to manage stress, be productive and avoid mental illnesses like depression.
We believe nature is fundamental to our wellbeing both in supporting mental wellbeing, productivity and sleep, but also physical wellbeing. As reported in a Yale study:
Nature is not only nice to have, but it’s a have-to-have for physical health and cognitive function.
There’s so much to explore about nature's relationship to our wellbeing. (You can read more detail in our previous blog post here).
From Edward Wilson’s notion of biophilia to the attention restoration theory arguing nature’s capacity to restore, there’s countless evidence for nature supporting sleep, relaxation, creativity, concentration, productivity, memory, attention, recovery, stress, anxiety, mood and happiness. It can also help reduce negative thoughts, and help fight against mental illnesses like depression.
Nature can also offer us emotions that are difficult to find elsewhere. Looking up into tall trees, for example, has been shown to induce profound feelings like awe - an emotion which has been linked to greater altruism and recovery from burnout.
Furthermore, nature is starting to get mainstream recognition within medicine too, with NHS doctors in the UK giving out nature prescriptions to improve wellbeing.
It’s also interesting to contrast nature with practices like mindfulness and meditation. These practices advertise similar benefits in areas like stress and performance, but they require conscious effort, cognitive resources and practice to reap the rewards. They take time.
Exposure to nature requires no conscious thought or practice, and by comparison, it’s consumption can be effortless and passive.
In short - bringing nature into our surroundings can have instant benefits to our wellbeing.
Environment plays a huge role in our daily lives. Not just our immediate environment and surroundings (where introducing nature through nature sounds, nature images and even pot plants are shown to support wellbeing) but our wider environment and connection to the planet too.
If people form a stronger connection with nature, through experiencing and valuing its impact on their wellbeing, evidence supports they will take stronger environmental decisions.
There’s also evidence to show children with greater exposure to nature in their childhood are more likely to care about their environment.
A paradigm shift towards living more sustainably and taking stronger environmental action can have a seismic impact on protecting and restoring our planet. Its role in the global fight against climate change, environmental degradation and pollution shouldn’t be underestimated.
We also turn to nature for inspiration in solving human design challenges, a practice called biomimicry. Energy efficient building design has been inspired by termite mounds, while Japan’s bullet train was inspired by a Kingfisher beak. Even the Wright brothers' flying machines were inspired by flying pigeons.
Protecting and restoring our wider surroundings, and the planet’s biodiversity, allows us to thrive. But so does embracing nature into our internal surroundings.
In some circles, technology is viewed as the villain against living a healthy, nature infused life. Many of us feel the lure of our devices more than the pull of nature as technology intrudes deeper into our lives, impacting social relationships, sleep, and pinning us indoors.
But technology can also offer us seamless solutions to bring nature into our surroundings so we can benefit from it at all hours of the day, and live better lives. It can help to bridge the gap and restore our historic connection to the wellbeing and relational aspects of nature.
For example, listening to nature sounds can improve a number of functions including focus and productivity, while simply looking at nature imagery is shown to lower stress levels. Surrounding ourselves with smart lighting, such as a warm sunlike glow, can help strengthen our circadian rhythm and help us wake up with more energy and purpose.
How digital and immersive experiences of the natural world impact health and wellbeing is at the forefront of further exciting research set for publication later this year.
Excitingly, the gap between nature and technology is diminishing. Smart technology is becoming more accessible, and will ultimately transform our at-home living experiences, through aspects like smart lighting and heating.
Audio technology moves at a frantic pace, from stereo sounds to binaurally recorded 3D sounds to head tracking spatial audio.
Visual technology is making similar progressions. We’ve rapidly shifted from standard definition to high definition to ultra high definition to retina quality imagery captured in 8K – that pretty much takes us beyond what is susceptible to the human eye!
Technology can be a key facilitator in seamlessly integrating nature into our daily lives and providing a regular ‘dose’ of environmental wellbeing. Like taking a vitamin, seeking out environmental wellbeing is something we can do as part of our overall health and happiness.
Technology breaks down the problem of access and enables nature to be part of our surroundings all day long.
Environmental wellbeing is about understanding the incredible value that nature brings to our health and happiness. It promotes nature experience in both physical and virtual environments, recognising technology can help to bring nature into our surroundings and deepen our personal connection with it.
A world connected with nature is better equipped to tackle physical and mental wellbeing challenges, but is also one that takes stronger environmental decisions in caring and protecting our planet.
At Portal, we’re committed to working towards a world that cherishes nature, and we’ve made it our mission to help reconnect the world with nature and our natural surroundings.
Environmental Wellbeing is fundamental to that mission, and has the power to change so much for the better.
Join us, on this hugely exciting journey.