An Ecology of Happiness

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The Science of Happiness!

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Workshop | Science of Happiness

Submit an Engagement Announcement. We know that nature can be restorative, but there have been few empirical studies on how the human relationship with nature predicts well-being c. We suggest that NR is a significant and under-studied potential contributor to well-being which may also help buffer other negative influences on psychological health.

These well-being indicators are often classified as representing hedonic more based in emotional valence or eudaimonic more based in human needs aspects of well-being. The hedonic approach often focuses on assessing the frequency and intensity of pleasant and unpleasant emotions e. Eudaimonic indicators such as sense of purpose in life, personal growth, autonomy, and vitality typically follow from the humanistic perspective, and thus capture aspects of optimal living that are perhaps less obviously pleasurable Ryff and Keyes ; Ryan and Frederick Some question the distinction between hedonic and eudaimonic definitions of happiness and virtually all the indicators mentioned above along with other candidates such as optimism or self-esteem intercorrelate substantially Kashdan et al.

Both types of indicators also have similar validity as predictors of important benefits like healthy car- diovascular and immune functioning Fredrickson and Losada ; Ryff et al. Psychometric approaches, however, often find that various happiness indicators include at least some unique features Lucas et al. That is, we take a broad approach to assessment by including multiple indicators of well-being.

In contrast to our broad view of well-being, our prediction linking it with individual differences in relationships with nature is much more specific. That is, we suggest that NR, specifically, will be associated with well-being. Other environmental attitude measures that omit an assessment of connection may not predict well-being. To be clear, NR has some similarities with measures of environmentalism, ecological worldview, and activism, but captures additional elements key to the person—nature relationship such as emotions, and experiences. Additionally, NR includes an understanding of the importance of all aspects of nature, even those that are not aesthetically appealing to humans, such as spiders and snakes.

Because the relationship people have with nature may shape environmental atti- tudes and beliefs, NR correlates with environmental measures. Nonetheless, NR goes beyond these things i. Consistent with this idea, Mayer and Frantz found a small positive correlation between their Connectedness to Nature Scale CNS, similar to NR and life satisfaction, controlling for the effects of an envi- ronmental attitude measure, the New Ecological Paradigm scale Dunlap et al.

In sum, because of their focus on environmental problems, many environmental scales may be more sensitive to potential costs of being environmentally aware, rather than the benefits of enjoying a connection with nature as captured by NR. Our goals were 1 to explore the connections between NR and well-being, 2 to test whether NR spe- cifically, as opposed to other pro-environmental attitudes, predicts well-being, and 3 to test whether changes in NR are associated with changes in well-being over time.

We present three studies. In the first two, we explore the potentially unique links between NR and various well-being indicators in a student sample, and with a more diverse non-student sample comprised of business people. In Study 3, we examine the effects of environmental education on NR and well-being. We expected that environmental educa- tion would foster higher levels of NR compared to non-environmental classes , and that changes in NR would be associated with well-being changes.

In other words, we predict that the effects of education on well-being will be mediated by changes in NR.

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We also test our hypothesis that NR will be a better predictor of well-being compared to other environmental measures. Most participants The mean age was They completed measures of NR, well-being, and measures of attitude and beliefs concerning the envi- ronment described below and listed in Tables 1, 2. Those higher in NR also reported spending more time outdoors and in nature in an experience sampling study. Each dimension contains nine items. Respondents are asked about statements pertaining to various aspects of their lives, using a Likert scale ranging from 1 strongly disagree to 6 strongly agree.

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These measures assess various aspects of environmental attitudes, but differ from NR in that they do not capture individual experiences and feelings about being in nature. The item version of the New Ecological Consciousness Scale NEC; Ellis and Thompson assesses feelings about environmental degradation, limits to economic growth, and potential crises in overpopulation using a 7-point Likert-scale ranging from 1 strongly agree to 7 strongly disagree.

It is possible that students have a unique perspective on well-being or may differ in NR, compared to other popu- lations. Our goal in study 2 was to test the relationship between NR and well-being in a more diverse group of participants, thus increasing the generalizability of these links. Surveys were completed anonymously on-line as part of a larger study assessing work-life balance and personality. The average age of participants was Participants completed the same well-being measures used in Study 1, as well as the NR scale.

Positive affect, autonomy, and personal growth were positively related to NR. People who are related to nature also reported having a sense of purpose in life, and more self-acceptance. In sum, NR was typically associated with greater well-being, but this relationship was not ubiquitous. For example, NR was not significantly associated with negative affect, life satisfaction, and some psychological well-being scales in both studies.

NR was never significantly correlated with ill-being, however.


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  • Overall, there were minimal relationships between environmental attitudes and well-being; only 7 of the Table 1 Correlations between nature relatedness and well-being measures Study 1 Study 1a Study 1 R2 a Study 2 Study 3 Study 3 Time 1 Time 2 Positive Affect. NR was significantly associated with all measures of well-being after controlling for other environmental scales see Table 1 for the partial correlations derived from the regression analyses.

    In many cases, the envi- ronmental measures became insignificant when NR was included in the model, or including NR resulted in a negative association between the environmental measure and well-being. We expected that differences in well-being following the courses would be mediated by changes in NR. Courses with environmental content might increase NR. That is, learning about the natural world should facilitate greater ecological understanding, and perhaps inspire students to re-evaluate their connection with nature.

    As suggested by ecopsychology theory and the results of studies 1 and 2, NR seems to be associated with higher levels of well-being. Following this logic, we predicted that the increased NR resulting from environmental education might also facilitate greater well-being. In other words, we expected that stu- dents taking environmental classes would end the semester happier than students without these courses, and based this improbable prediction on the notion that differences in well- being would be accounted for i.

    However, it is important to note that when it came time to actually conduct the study, we found that some adjustment in expectations was prudent. That is, we gained access to courses at a Canadian university in the fall semester September to December. This is a period where well-being often decreases, in the general public Oyane et al.

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