“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us.  When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

Aldo Leopold, (1949). A Sand County Almanac.

For many years, scientists have investigated why people enjoy nature so much.

In 1964, psychologist Erich Fromm used the word biophilia to describe the human attraction to all that is alive and vital. The biophilia theory was further developed by Harvard entomologist E. O. Wilson, who defined it as “the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life” (Wilson, 1984). (The word biophilia combines bio, meaning life, with the Greek term philia, meaning “a loving family-type relationship.”)

Wilson proposed that our deep connections with nature’s living systems—our sense of belonging—are rooted in our biology and that we have a chemical connection with other life forms and the Earth. Thus, the growing interest in environmental ethics, environmental altruism, and concern for planetary health may arise out of biophilia.

Photo of a sunset over a mountain range.

Big as the Universe. Twelve-year old Aika Tsubota told her mother when looking up to the sky, “I feel big—like the universe. It’s as though I’m one with it.” Sometime later, when her teacher assigned each student a project of his or her own choice, Aika set about creating a comic book, called Secrets of the Earth. It took two months to finish. When children open the book, the Earth pops out shouting, “Hi, there!” and begins to teach all about herself and her environmental problems. Unfortunately, Aika died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage only days after turning her project in, but her book lives on and has been translated into dozens of languages.

(Adapted from Acting for Nature: What Young People Around the World Have Done To Protect the Environment)

Photo of a woman gazing at a river with fence in foreground.

Take a walk where you will encounter some aspect of nature. For example, walk in a nearby park, along city streets with trees, near where flowers grow in small gardens or pots, through the woods, or on a piece of property that you enjoy.

Simply walk.

Ask yourself: Does some part of me feel related to nature? If so, what makes me feel related? What part of nature is like me? If not, why am I not related? Note what happens.

Enhanced Sense of Connection. In 2010, University of Rochester psychologist Richard Ryan and colleagues from four other institutions conducted research on biophilia with 537 college students. The results confirmed that students felt more energized and vital when they spent time outdoors in nature, in contrast to visualizing being in nature or being in indoor environments that contained a lot of nature (Ryan, et al, 2010). Contact with nature restored their aliveness (Eco-Healing Tree roots) and enhanced their sense of connection and belonging (Eco-Healing Tree trunk).

Nature and Connectedness. In 2004, Mayer and Frantz published an article, “The Connectedness to Nature Scale: A Measure of Individuals’ Feeling in Community with Nature,” which shows how their scale measures peoples’ sense of connection with nature and correlates it with their ecological responsibility. Referring to America's early nature ethicist, Aldo Leopold, they state,“The [five] studies presented here also provide evidence for the coherence of Leopold’s vision that feeling a sense of community, kinship, egalitarianism, embeddedness, and belongingness to nature are all aspects of a broader sense of feeling connected to it. They support Leopold’s contention that connectedness to nature leads to concern for nature, as the Connectedness with Nature Scale has also been shown to relate to a biospheric value orientation, ecological behavior, anticonsumerism, perspective taking, and identity as an environmentalist. Lastly, they [the results] suggest that personal wellbeing is linked to a sense of feeling connected to nature” (Mayer & Frantz, 2004).

Action for Nature. (2000). Acting for Nature: What Young People Around the World Have Done To Protect the Environment.  San Francisco, CA. Action for Nature, Inc.

Fromm, E. (1964). The Heart of Man. New York: Harper & Row.

Grinde, B., and Patil, G. (2009). Biophilia: does visual contact with nature impact health and well-Being?  International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health; 6(9), 2332-2343.

Kellert, S.R., Wilson, E.O., eds. (1995). The Biophilia Hypothesis. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Leopold, A. (1949). A Sand County Almanac. Oxford:Oxford University Press.

Mayer, F., McPherson-Frantz, C. (2004). The connectedness to nature scale: a measure of individuals’ feeling in community with nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology; 24(4), 503-515.

Plotkin, B. (2008). Nature and the Human Soul. Navato, CA: New World Library.

Ryan, R., Weinsteing, N., Bernstein, J., Brown, K., Mistretta, L., Gagne, M. (2010). Vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology; 30(2), 159-168.

Sabini, M., ed. (2002). The Earth Has a Soul: C.G. Jung on Nature, Technology & Modern Life. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Wilson, E. O. (1984). Biophilia. Boston: Harvard University Press.