Summary: Connectedness to nature makes children happier due to their tendency to perform sustainable and pro-ecological behaviors.
A new study in Frontiers in Psychology, led by Dr Laura Berrera-Hernández and her team at the Sonora Institute of Technology (ITSON), has shown for the first time that connectedness to nature makes children happier due to their tendency to perform sustainable and pro-ecological behaviors.
As our planet faces growing threats from a warming climate, deforestation and mass species extinction, research focusing on the relationships between humans and nature is increasingly urgent to find solutions to today’s environmental issues. As younger generations will be the future custodians of the planet, work is being done by researchers on how we can promote sustainable behaviors and develop environmental care in children. The researchers state that a disconnection to nature, termed ‘nature deficit disorder’, may contribute to the destruction of the planet, as the lack of a bond with the natural world is unlikely to result in desire to protect it.
Berrera-Hernández describes ‘connectedness to nature’ as not just appreciating nature’s beauty, but also “being aware of the interrelation and dependence between ourselves and nature, appreciating all of the nuances of nature, and feeling a part of it.”
The study recruited 296 children between the ages of 9 and 12 from a northwestern Mexican city. All the participants were given a self-administered scale completed in school to measure their connectedness to nature, sustainable behaviors (pro-ecological behavior, frugality, altruism, and equity) and happiness. This included measuring their agreement with statements about their connectedness to nature, such as ‘Humans are part of the natural world’ and statements about their sustainable behaviors, such as ‘I separate empty bottles to recycle’.
The researchers found that in children, feeling connected to nature had positive associations for sustainability practices and behaviors, and also led to children reporting higher levels of perceived happiness. This suggests that children who perceive themselves to be more connected to nature tend to perform more sustainable behaviors and therefore also have greater levels of happiness. Previous research on adults had suggested a relationship between connectedness to nature and the development of pro-environmental behaviors, and the happiness derived from these.
Despite the study’s limitations of only testing children from the same city, the results provide insight into the power of positive psychology of sustainability in children. Deepening our understanding of the relationships between these variables may provide practical insights for the added psychological benefits of promoting sustainable behaviors in children. If we are to develop environmental care and concern in younger generations, then initiatives to encourage and enable young people to spend more time in nature is a must.
Berrera-Hernández states: “Parents and teachers should promote children to have more significant contact or exposure to nature, because our results indicate that exposure to nature is related to the connection with it, and in turn, with sustainable behaviors and happiness.”
The study has fascinating and practical implications for future research in environmental psychology and its applications in nature-based education and initiatives, highlighting the positive benefits for both the planet and children’s wellbeing in encouraging more exposure and contact with the natural world.
Connectedness to Nature: Its Impact on Sustainable Behaviors and Happiness in Children
Given the environmental problems humanity is currently facing, and considering that the future of the planet lies in the hands of children and their actions, research on the determinants of sustainable behaviors in children has become more relevant; nonetheless, studies on this topic focusing on children are scarce. Previous research on adults suggests, in an isolated manner, the relationship between connectedness to nature, the development of behaviors in favor of the environment, and positive results derived from them, such as happiness and well-being. In the present research, connectedness to nature was considered as a determinant of sustainable behaviors, and happiness was considered as a positive consequence of the latter. This research aimed to demonstrate the relationship between these variables in children. Two hundred and ninety-six children with an average age of 10.42 years old participated in the study, in which they responded to a research instrument that measured connectedness to nature, sustainable behaviors (pro-ecological behavior, frugality, altruism, and equity), and happiness. To analyze the relationships between these variables, a model of structural equations was specified and tested. The results revealed a significant relationship between connectedness to nature and sustainable behaviors, which, in turn, impact happiness. This suggests that children who perceive themselves as more connected to nature tend to perform more sustainable behaviors; also, the more pro-ecological, frugal, altruistic, and equitable the children are, the greater their perceived happiness will be. The implications for studying and promoting sustainable behaviors are discussed within the framework of positive psychology.