Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for February, 2018

“I wish I had let myself be happier”.

This was one of the five common regrets of dying people as reported by palliative care nurse, Bonnie Ware, (see my last post).

The message for us is obvious – make and take as many opportunities as we can to be happy.

Straightforward as it may seem, this message raises the two age-old questions: What is happiness? and How do we achieve it?

Philosophers and psychologists have traditionally thought about happiness and its attainment it in one of two ways. The oldest point of view is that happiness is experiencing more pleasure than pain, so finding happiness involves maximising pleasure and minimising pain.

This is the hedonistic or what Martin Seligman calls the “pleasant life” view of happiness. Happy people, according to this perspective, are strong on fun-seeking, satisfying desires and avoiding unpleasantness (pain).

The second and more recent standpoint argues that happiness is all about achieving fulfilment, satisfaction and meaning in life. This is referred to as the eudiamonistic (eu = good; daimon = spirit) view of happiness because it has to do with personal growth and the realization of potential.

There are two variations on the eudiamonistic theme: desire theory and objective list theory. According to desire theory, happiness is a matter of getting what you want without regard to the worthiness or otherwise of what is desired. Desire theory and hedonism overlap when what we want is lots of pleasure and little pain. But desire theory goes further by holding that fulfilling a desire contributes to happiness regardless of the pleasure (or pain) involved. A climber on top of Mt Everest can be very happy even though she is exhausted, frost-bitten and uncertain about the descent. Desire theory is the “good life” view of happiness and is conspicuously on display in consumerism.

Objective list theory holds that happiness resides in the pursuit of goals that are objectively judged to be worthwhile – career success, friendship, relief of poverty and kindness to others, for example. Such goals are transcendent in the sense that they are larger and more worthwhile than just the self’s pleasures and desires. The objective list theory gives us the “meaningful life” view of happiness.

Seligman, accepts that each of the three forms of happiness are genuine but insists that “authentic happiness” comprises all three. He says that only by experiencing the three can we lay claim to living the “full life”.

We don’t need research to tell us that good health is a powerful contributor to happiness in all its forms. This is intuitively obvious. But research has identified other factors such as income level (but only up to the point beyond which each additional dollar makes no difference), education, marital status, volunteering, religious faith and physical attractiveness.

Matching the most significant of these is another that may surprise you – “nature connectedness” (NC). Just as we all differ on personality traits such as extraversion, conscientiousness and openness, we differ on the degree to which we feel connected with the natural world. People with a strong sense of connection to nature feel a kinship with animals and plants and think of the natural world as a community to which they belong. They spend more time in the out-of-doors, engage in nature conservation activities and practices and exhibit a high degree of concern about the human impact on planetary health.

Before reading on, please click on this link and run the immensely entertaining video to watch NC on display – in quite small children as well as adults. In fact, we are all born with the biological foundations of NC but what is built on these foundations depends very much on life experiences and culture. Just like many other characteristics of personality, NC is the product of heredity and environment – nature and nurture – working together.

Several well-tested measures of NC have been developed. This has paved the way for research into NC’s relationship with other aspects of personality and behaviour including happiness.

The study of the link between NC and happiness has attracted quite a deal of research attention, to the extent that a recent review  of the research was able to integrate the findings of no fewer than 21 scientifically sound studies. The review pooled data from the 21 studies in such a way as to extract findings that were reflective of all the studies combined. What this means is that we have findings effectively from a sample of over 8,500 subjects, of both genders, aged from 19 to 63 years, with diverse educational backgrounds and from a range of North American, European and Asian countries. The findings also relate to both hedonistic and eudaimonistic happiness as measures of either or both were used in the studies.

The general picture that emerged from the review is that people who are more connected with nature experience more positive emotions, vitality (get-up-go) and satisfaction with life. Although in measurement terms, the associations were small they were of a similar size to those reported for the other known contributors to happiness mentioned earlier – income, education, volunteering, etc. Interestingly, NC’s strongest association was with vitality, which probably straddles both the two main types of happiness.

The broad conclusion of the review is that being connected with nature and feeling happy are linked. But it has yet to be established how the link works. One possible path is that a high level of NC makes us more open and emotionally responsive to nature’s beauty, awesomeness and tranquillity. There is indeed some evidence for this . And of course, people who are highly connected with nature are also more likely to engage in outdoor activities that are enjoyable and rewarding.

Since strong NC is an ingredient of happiness it would be great if we knew for certain how NC is best nurtured. A broad brush theory is that NC develops as a consequence of engaging with nature in pleasurable and rewarding ways. But that theory needs to tested and refined to account for differences in people’s make-up, life experiences and circumstances.

Do you feel you have a strong NC? If so, how did you get it? Answers to the second question would be really worth sharing, don’t you agree? (In thinking about the first question, you might care to click on this link and scroll down to where the items of the Connectedness to Nature Scale are listed. If you decide to try the scale, remember that for the items marked “reverse”, 1 is scored 5, 2 is sored 4, and so on. The closer your total score is to 70, the stronger is your connection to nature.)

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »