2 years ago

Does helping the environment make you happier?

Image credit: Reuters
Image credit: Reuters

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The relationship between human wellbeing and the planet’s natural systems is critical and intricate. Through various ways, nature positively influences human well-being through stress and fatigue relief, enables a sense of belonging, and facilitates opportunities to find a sense of purpose through personal reflection.

Numerous researches have corroborated a positive interrelationship between mental health and a green living environment. Similarly, studies have presented that exposure to nature has demonstrated improved psycho-physiological stress recovery, attention restoration, and inner positivity, as compared to an urban environment.

Technological advances and socio-economic transformations in recent times have come at the cost of the natural systems’ capacity to sustain the needs and wellbeing of humans. In the last 50 years, global economic growth has contributed to the excessive emission of greenhouse gases, while the production of chemicals and wastes caused a rise in pollution.

Human consumption of resources now significantly risks livelihood, health, food, water, and economic growth itself. Hence, human health and well-being depend on breaking the existing trends of environmental degradation.

As the state of the natural environment worsens, researchers are starting to explore the relationship between humans and nature, trying to understand how this relationship could possibly influence sustainable behaviour. Could our disconnection from the natural world contribute to its downfall?

Connectedness to nature has been defined in many ways in the existing literature. It is a personality trait of an individual that may enable them to be empathetic and emotionally connected to nature. Others have stated that it is an inherent and stable characteristic of an individual developed through time and experiences that stems from an appreciation of this interconnectedness.

This appreciation comes from a deeper understanding and signifying all aspects of nature that go beyond the superficial dimensions of just being a nature-lover. In ways, connectedness to nature is a state that develops through empathy, knowledge, and experience.

On the contrary, nature-deficit disorder is a term that has been recently coined to address the lack of connectedness between humans and the natural environment as well as a lack of bond with other living beings. This disconnection from nature is a consciousness issue that is crucial to solving the existing and emerging socio-ecological crises. Development of individual care and concern has been identified as a solution to address the environmental changes and decline.

Bangladeshi culture has been found to be embedded by cultural and mindful consumption of natural resources. A research titled, ‘Childhoodnature Alternatives,’ published in ‘Springer International Handbooks of Education’ by researchers Helen Widdop Quinton and Ferdousi Khatun, has corroborated the connectedness of Bangladeshi adolescents to nature.

In remote and rural areas, their connectedness to nature was identified through their awareness of being dependent on the natural systems and living within the natural constraints surrounding them. Their appreciation of nature was not only limited to resource use but also to the role of nature in cultural and spiritual replenishment.

Value was assigned to the services nature provided to their family and community, who are immersed in their natural surroundings through subsistence lifestyle and spiritual interconnectedness. Ecological literacy of their local nature was developed through these interactions as well.

Expertise in terms of biodiversity, seasonal variation, climate adaptation, and mitigation as well use of plants as pesticides and medicines were not lost on them. Adolescents dwelling in urban areas may not be as closely connected to nature in terms of physical proximity, even though they tend to maintain this connectivity through various cultural philosophies and practices.

Plants and flowers are symbolic of different festivals that are practised in urban settings, whereas urban gardening is practised by many. Reciprocal caring by taking care of plants, reusing and repurposing waste is part of the urban Bangladeshi lifestyle.

This study demonstrated that the adolescents of Bangladesh are not disconnected from nature but rather holds an intrinsic value in their way of being. However, the expanding socio-economic landscape and ways of modern lives can be at odds with the Bangladeshi traditional ways of interacting with nature.

Positive human-environment interactions have become crucial - to address the current environmental challenges as well as to improve human well-being and happiness. Not only does being connected to nature relate to pro-ecological behaviours, but also contributes to pro-social and altruistic behaviours in individuals.

The latter are also necessary to be mindful of the social well-being of the present and future generations on top of nature conservation. In order to mainstream sustainable practices and pro-ecological behaviours, ecological knowledge and awareness should be cultivated from a young age among individuals.

Institutional and formal environmental education may contribute to developing a knowledge base and a positive attitude towards nature, but whether it directly promotes long-term connectedness with nature still remains a question.

Nature-based environmental education is not a common practice in Bangladesh, but if it becomes so, it may open paths for promoting environmental motivation and knowledge, along with long-term connectedness to nature.


Sameera Zaman has completed her Masters in Environmental Sciences from the University of Freiburg, Germany. Currently, she is working as a lecturer and research associate at a private university in Bangladesh. She can be reached at [email protected]

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