Research on mindfulness continues to expand, with studies around the world finding that this ability to be in the moment, without judgement, improves psychological well-being.
Now research is showing that one of the most accessible ways to develop mindfulness is by connecting with nature. And as we develop mindfulness, we can be more connected to nature. It’s a mutually positive relationship.
Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden, understood this not-so-secret way nature invites us to be at peace with ourselves in the moment.
“There are moments when all anxiety and stated toil are becalmed in the infinite leisure and repose of nature.” --Henry David Thoreau
As humans, we simply stop what we’re doing to immerse ourselves in the colors of a breathtaking sunset. Our heart leaps with optimism when the first robin of spring shows up in our front yard. The harmonious greens of trees and plants restore our sense of balance during a walk in the woods. The endless majesty of the ocean makes our small presence in the universe a joy and a mystery.
We don’t require research to feel how time stops, and worry evaporates, in these intense, yet peaceful, moments of connectedness with nature. But now research is proving that these moments of immersion in nature are examples of mindfulness. We are intensely alert, and yet deeply calm, in the moment.
In our 24/7 society with the near obsession many people have with smartphones and social media, the value of this research on the relationship between mindfulness and nature it offers us one way to maintain, or restore, our physical and emotional balance.
A study of more than two dozen research projects involving more than 2,000 participants found, “...there was a significant relationship between mindfulness and connectedness to nature.” The findings are published in the June 2018 Elsevier journal Personality and Individual Differences.
This metastudy found, “The non-judgemental awareness and presence that is central to mindfulness may facilitate the development of a sense of connectedness to nature. Such awareness may allow individuals to engage with nature experiences more fully, resulting in the building of a sense of connection to or oneness with nature. In a reciprocal relationship, contact with natural environments may restore attention capability.”
Thoreau conducted his own research project. He went to live simply in a cabin at Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts for two years.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately.” --Henry David Thoreau
Perhaps another way to think of being in the moment and non-judgemental might be the choice to be deliberate ” in the sense of being “conscious” and “intentional.” As we practice mindfulness, we choose to intentionally focus on the moment, letting judgement and worry pass by. With practice, with “intention,” we may increase these moments of mindfulness that have shown to be helpful for issues ranging from outlook on life to disorders such as anxiety, depression or PTSD.
“Humans may have an intrinsic tendency, shaped by evolution, to want connections to nature and to benefit from these connections,” researchers Nicola Schutte and John Malouff said. “Connectedness to nature has beneficial psychological and health effects.”
Thoreau knew and experienced those positive effects.
“An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.” --Henry David Thoreau
The studies showed that connectedness to nature is associated with positive outcomes, such as greater vitality and higher life satisfaction.
Conclusions of Research on Mindfulness and Nature
The researchers concluded that the reciprocal approach offers a path for more study. They encourage programs aimed at exposure to nature to increase mindfulness and enhancing the connection to nature through mindfulness.
Thoreau found hope and optimism in nature itself.
“There can be no very black melancholy to him who lives in the midst of Nature and has his senses still.” --Henry David Thoreau
We don’t know if Thoreau’s ability to be mindful as a writer, poet, and philosopher came from his deep connection to nature, or if nature helped him connect more clearly to his true beliefs and creativity. It’s likely, as the contemporary researchers discovered, it’s a mutually positive relationship.
Schutte, Nicola and Malouff, John, “ Mindfulness and Connectedness to Nature: A Meta-analytic Investigation,” Personality and Individual Differences, Elsevier, June 2018
Schneider, Richard J., “Thoreau’s Life,” The Thoreau Society, 2015