Ψ // Why Nature Matters
Updated: Oct 28, 2019
An outdoor experience to reconnect with ourself
"The Experience of Awe in Nature.
A Self-Transcendent Journey towards Meaning."
"Steering the sailboat, I am impressed and humble when looking at the majesty of the floating Spinnaker. I feel aroused by its immensity and dread its complexity in trying to use it.
So I keep steering at it, I try to make sense of it. I wonder, I awe and I little by little, I feel connected to it. Facing up the sun, I feel the sunlight warming up my cheeks, the smooth wind noise caressing my hair, the power of the water rolling underneath my boat. I sense the deepness of the horizon, the strength of the winds and the infinity of the seas.
In this moment, I am the air, the water and the sun, In this moment I am the spinnaker, I am the universe”.
Have you ever felt invaded by the beauty of a landscape, the magic of a moment? a stunning sunset, a top of a mountain sight? Where the nature that you were to admire suddenly becomes totally part of you?
If yes, you have connected with nature, experienced Awe and to this extend you have might have found meaning. The following will further describe the underlying theories and processes that unfold and play a role along this journey.
- Connecting with Nature , a Human Need that Flows in our Veins -
Researchers demonstrated that humans have an inborn tendency to focus on and affiliate with all living things on earth. This was described in the “Biophilia” theory of Wilson (1984). Later Kellert and Wilson (1993) further described this as being an evolutionary process, where human have a natural strong connection to nature and that as such they tend to connect with every life being they get to encounter.
Reflecting on our ancestor’s lives, we admit the key role “biophilia” played in helping people master their environment and survive. Indeed, by being closely connected to the nature, they could understand it, master it and increase their chance of survival. Chasing a prey, finding water, building a shelter, hiding from predators, choosing a plants, finding food, avoiding poison, all these daily activities required deep attention and understanding of the nature behaviors in their complexity and subtlety.
Back then, the people who were the most connected, appeared to survive. As direct descender of those nature connected human beings, we carry along with us their strong connection and attraction to nature (Kellert et. al, 1993).
Despite the growing and large urbanization that has exploded in the last century, it is unlikely that we have erased or lost any of the learnings that we have gained from interacting with nature. It is indeed confirmed that those strong nature connections and attractions are deeply embedded in our biology as “Biophilia” (Kellert & Wilson, 1993).
- In Human’s Quest for Happiness, Meaning Plays a Key Role -
The human quest for meaning, has driven most positive psychologist's attention in the last twenty years. According to them meaning in life is for someone to believe that their life is significant and that they transcend the ephemeral present. It is the feeling that their life is part of a larger time frame, a broader perspective, larger than themselves (Emmons 2005; Steger 2009; Wong 2010).
Meaning has become the center of attention as psychologists’ value it as a central piece to "eudaimonia", where happiness is more than to simply feeling good and being satisfied with one’s life. Some researchers would even consider searching for meaning instead of happiness (Wong, 2009). Positing that meaning would the ultimate dimension to an enhanced life.
- Nature, as a Major Contributor for Finding Meaning -
In their studies, O’Connor and Chamberlain (1996) revealed that through their relationship with nature people found a strong source of meaning. Indeed, they posit that those who are highly nature connected derive a sense of meaningful existence from their closeness with it.
A substantial range of studies have since confirmed this posit and highlighted the profound associations between nature connectedness and meaning in life.
Nisbet, Zelenski and Murphy (2011), Cervinka, Roderer and Hefler (2012) established that nature connectedness was linked to meaningfulness and as such the experience of a sense of meaning and purpose in life emerged form a connection with nature.
Berger (1985) demonstrated that connecting with nature embeded us more deeply into the existence of life beyond the course of our single lifetime.
To Cohen et al. (2010) nature provides people with a sense of understanding and foster their perspective.
- The Benefits of Meaning -
Experiencing meaning in life has been proved to enhance human’s life satisfaction, to generate positive affects (Chamberlain & Zika, 1988) and as a result to predict high level of subjective well-being. (Bonebrights, Caly & Ankenmann, 2000).
According to Howell et al., (2013) meaning in life is predictive of well-being and as to them, these higher levels of well-being come from a sense of meaning in life that one can found in connecting closely with nature.
Not only has the contact with nature the power to restore, relax, energize and rise positive affects, which is proven to enhance short-term well-being, it also appears to allow for one to find meaning, which has proved to enhance one well-being in the long-run. (Nisbet et al. 2011)
Most theories in the field of meaning have pointed the role of nature as a major source of meaning. Stable patterns, permanency, perspective, connections are major source of meaning and it is well assumed that those can be found in nature. Nature as such become the fertile ground for transcendent experience, one that lead to meaning as described in our first part.
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