Effects of Psychological and Physical Connection With Nature
Throughout history across cultures, well-being has been repeatedly recorded as having a direct relationship with one’s psychological and physical connection with nature. Though this philosophy has been carried on for a long time, there are many people who continue to disregard it. Not only psychological but physical. I say this because in America the percentage of people living in rich nature environments (rural) has diminished tremendously, and is not expected to stop.
People spend little to no time outside each day, apart from walking to their cars. Time spent outside as a whole has decreased for people of all ages, but our youth is our future. What children seem to be replacing outdoor time with is screen time. With so little interest in what’s going on outside the walls of their home, knowledge of even the most common species of nature is being forgotten. The worst part is, for people who spend so much time apart from nature, we are still the ones contributing to its environmental issues the most. It’s believed that people’s well-being is better off with good connectedness with nature, as well as nature’s with people. Evidence to support this claim is based on psychological benefits such as enhanced well-being and mental health.
There are two main parts of a person’s connection with nature, nature contact and nature connectedness. Natura contact is your physical presence and involvement with the nature around you. Nature connectedness is the psychological connection with the natural world around you. This part of a person’s connection with nature is defined as a state, that can change depending on the current situation. As expected, someone who spends a lot of time outdoors has a better connectedness with nature. The two parts are related seeing as an increased physical connection will lead to an increased psychological connection, vice versa. If you take the time to understand nature, you may find yourself spending time with it more often. But, what does all of this really lead to and why is it so important? Research has been done to answer this question and while even more can be done, some advantages have already been found.
There are 3 theories that address why nature has such a positive impact on our well-being. The first theory, the biophilia hypothesis, indicates that long ago connectedness with nature was a crucial part of survival and we should continue to carry out the tradition. The second theory, attention restoration theory, separates connectedness into two types of attention: direct and involuntary. Direct attention requires a lot of focus and depletes over time, making it limited. As it depletes, it also can cause negative emotions and mental states. Involuntary attention doesn’t require any effort at all and can actually bring about a positive mentality. Research on this theory has shown how nature is a way for people to get away and reduce stress. Because of this it increases involuntary attention and induces that positive mentality. This includes improved concentration, emotional functioning, and voluntary (directed) attention. The last theory, stress-reduction theory, says that exposure to the parts of nature that used to be crucial to survival can reduce stress. When a person is stressed, they are in an increased state of arousal; nature decreases arousal, which decreases stress.
Emerson’s Idea of Understanding Nature
The first component necessary for achieving the sense of union with nature and God according to Emerson is a special kind of solitude. As Emerson explains, this kind of solitude is produced when a person isolates oneself from society not only internally but also externally. Emerson writes “a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society” (1) and at the same time, he states “I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me” By this Emerson means that the kind of solitude he describes means not only isolation from people but also clarity and emptiness of mind. To be in solitary for Emerson to have no people outside and no thought inside, since he is not in this type of solitude when reading or writing.
To explain how this type of solitude is arisen by nature, Emerson bridges them with the explanation of the effect of stars. The stars produce this kind of thoughtless state by being always around and always unreachable. Emerson feels that the same kind of sense may be produced by nature since it is also always around, but is truly seen very rarely. Emerson states that only children, poets, and wise spirits can truly see nature because this special kind of seeing requires a certain competence or alignment of inner capacities.
Nature and Transcendent Feeling of Union with God
The real experience of nature, that is possible only in a special kind of solitude, for Emerson means seeing nature in its entirety and complexity, it means being an essential part of it. According to Emerson, poets see nature this way; they are not focused on its particular aspects, but see a bigger picture. They do not intend to use or own it, they appreciate it in all its complexity. Emerson explains this point with an example. A field may be divided into multiple farms owned by different people. Yet when a poet sees the field, they see not farms or property, but a beautiful landscape that nobody can own. According to Emerson, the integrity and complexity of nature is the key to seeing it as a poet.
Emerson’s genius is manifested through his works. Using words, he describes a transcendent feeling of union with God that he gets when being in a state of special solitude in nature. By perceiving nature in its complexity and integrity, he is able to reach the state of complete thoughtlessness, in which he can dissolve one’s ego and merge with the Universe.