Happiness and feeling connected: the distinct role of nature relatedness

Posted by Siru Heiskanen on Mar 20, 2017

Authors: Zelenski, J. M. and Nisbet, E. K.

Year of publication: 2014

Publication: Environment and Behavior 46(1) pp. 3–23

Keywords: nature, well-being, happiness, nature connectedness,

Link to publication

In this study (2014) researchers aimed to measure differences in general connectedness to nature, and then determine whether it could predict well-being. This study wanted to especially answer, whether nature relatedness does predict happiness, or whether feelings of connectedness to nature are just more common among happy people.

Contact with nature is known to have many positive benefits on human health and well-being, even when that contact is limited. These effects are often explained with E. O. Wilson’s (1984) biophilia hypothesis: humans have an innate need to be affiliated with natural elements, as they reflect the environment we humans lived and evolved in. In addition, nature relatedness has become an important tool in understanding environmentally sustainable behaviour: it strongly predicts sustainable attitudes and behaviours even when controlling for other attitude measures. People who feel connected to nature, want to protect it.

This article consist of two studies: in the study 1, researchers assessed a variety of subjective connections and happiness indicators in student (n = 331) and community (n = 415) samples, and tested if nature relatedness was connected to well-being. The test had an online survey, where participants filled in different questionnaires to determine their connection to nature using several different standard scales (such as Nature Relatedness scale and Schultz’s Nature in Self scale) and happiness (such as Subjective Happiness scale, Vitality scale,  and Centre for Epidemiological Studies Depression scale). In the study 2, various other connections were measured (n = 204). These included many which were interpersonal in nature (e.g. loneliness, attachment), and connections to cultural groups (e.g. collective identity, interdependent-self), which were then used to determine whether they overlapped with nature relatedness especially in terms of predicting happiness. Nature relatedness was also assessed in a replicative manner to study 1.



Study 1

  • Nature connectedness correlated significantly with all happiness indicators in both samples (rs from 0.13 to 0.46), even when controlling for a variety of other connections (e.g. social connections)
  • The nature-relatedness measures (NR and INS) were also significantly correlated with most happiness indicators (rs from 0.11 to 0.42), though often not as strongly
  • Both nature relatedness measures correlated with most well-being indicators, but not with the ill-being indicators
  • The results suggest, that nature relatedness may play a more beneficial, rather than buffering, role in happiness.

Study 2

  • Despite some differences with study 1, the general pattern of findings led to same conclusions: nature relatedness appeared distinct from other important connections, and predicted happiness independently of other subjective connections (r from 0.67 to 0.25)

Nature relatedness remained a significant predictor of happiness (particularly positive effects).

Researchers conclude, that nature relatedness is distinct in producing happiness and cultivating it could provide a unique route to increasing environmentally sustainable behaviour. Spending more time in nature and thus nurturing the connection to it, could motivate to protect it. More studies, however, are needed to confirm this statement.


Have a question? Send us a message | We will be in touch shortly