How important is access to nature to our general happiness and wellbeing? A lot, argues journalist Lucy Jones in her new book, Losing Eden, which delves into the connection between mental health and the natural world. Modern living means that many of us spend our days in ‘cubicles, cars and tower blocks, spending only one to five per cent of our time outdoors,’ she writes. In fact, city dwellers often have to actively seek out nature. Yet studies have shown that simply looking at a picture of the natural world can have stress-reduction and well-being benefits.
The importance of spending time in nature is no longer an abstract question. By 2050, an estimated 68 per cent of humans will live in urban areas. Meanwhile, three-quarters of children in the UK between the ages of five and 12 now spend less time outdoors than prison inmates. Less than one in ten regularly play in wild spaces, while in 2007 words such as ‘acorn’ and ‘buttercup’ were removed from the Oxford Children’s Dictionary, replaced by ‘broadband’ and ‘cut and paste’. In 2005, writer Richard Louv coined the phrase ‘nature-deficit disorder’ to describe the wide range of behavioural issues that seem to be related to this disconnect.
Losing Eden introduces us to some of the thinkers, past and present, who have furthered our knowledge on a topic that deserves far more attention. It also brings in a lot of scientific research to back up the view that we need to engage more with the natural world around us. Studies have shown that contact with natural environments during pregnancy and the neonatal period results in a lower prevalence of allergic disorders. Patients recovering from surgery also appear to show significant improvements just by being given a room with a view. The presence of nature also appears to have a ‘significant dampening effect on levels of crime and violence,’ writes Jones.
The genesis of Losing Eden was the author’s own imminent parenthood, and she spends considerable time writing about the next generation’s diminishing relationship with the outside world. It is a depressing picture, even with Jones’ attempt at an optimistic conclusion.