I have always valued spending time in the great outdoors. I still remember my first backpacking trip up Mount Washington and all the fond memories I have made camping since then. Since the start of the pandemic, I have become especially appreciative of being able to spend time outside. Findings support the claim that spending time in nature is linked to increased levels of happiness and life satisfaction.

Every living thing is connected and depends on one another. Our happiness is directly linked to our relationship with the natural world. Healthy ecosystems provide us with all kinds of resources and are at the foundation of everyday life. The government has a responsibility to protect biodiversity and restore key ecosystems. Continue reading to find out ways we as individuals can become better environmental stewards.

Meet the World’s Happiest Country

Bhutan, located between India and China, is said to be one of the world’s happiest countries. Bhutan is primarily a Buddhist nation that practices protecting the natural environment. The government prioritizes caring for the land and the people see the inherent value of all living beings. In fact, the nation was closed to tourists until 1974 in part to protect the environment. Each Bhutanese citizen has the right to free medical care and free education. Bhutanese people value their traditions and their unique culture. The law in Bhutan states that at least 60% of the country’s total physical footprint must be dedicated to forest conservation. Bhutan has exceeded that number with over 71% of the country covered in trees as of 2019.

The monarchs in Bhutan have worked tirelessly to carefully balance economic growth, social development, environmental sustainability, and cultural preservation. In 2015, Bhutan set the world record for planting 50,000 trees in just one hour. As a result of these efforts, Bhutan is the only carbon-negative country in the world, meaning it absorbs more carbon dioxide than it produces. The citizens of Bhutan consume food and other products that are grown and cultivated within the country, and the long-term goal is for everything to be all-natural.

A National Happiness Score

Bhutan takes a holistic approach to development. In the 1970s, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck proclaimed that gross national happiness was as much, if not more, important to measure than the gross national product. In 2008, the Gross National Happiness committee was formed. Bhutan is the only country in the world with an official ministry of happiness. The goal of the committee is to measure and maintain the citizens’ inner peace and levels of happiness. In 2015, the committee organized an extensive survey to interview citizens about their level of happiness.

The result of the survey revealed that 91% of the population considered themselves happy and 43% considered themselves deeply or extensively happy. We can learn a lot from Bhutan about the path to happiness and life satisfaction. Other countries should be looking to Bhutan as a model for how conservation and sustainability can be integrated into everyday life. Governments need to ensure that the basic needs of citizens are being met. That includes addressing the mental, physical, and environmental needs of a given community.

How do we measure Happiness?

The World Happiness Report, which was created by the United Nations in 2012, was inspired by Bhutan’s leadership. Finland and Denmark have consistently held the top spots. Happiness is difficult to measure, but in essence, it is the satisfaction with the way one’s life is going. The World Happiness Report is categorized into six areas of life satisfaction: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust, and generosity. The best predictor for happiness according to this data is relational satisfaction. Do we have people that we can rely on? Do we have people we can share our hopes and dreams with? Humans are inherently social beings, and consequently, feeling connected to others and having a sense of purpose are crucial components of well-being. Meaningful work like volunteering also creates a shared sense of identity and has been proven to increase feelings of happiness. If you live in New York consider volunteering with NYC GreenThumb, the largest community gardening program in the nation.

On average wealthier people tend to be happier but only to an extent. Research shows that once you reach a certain level of income, additional wealth does not seem to impact overall happiness. The ideal income was found to be $95,000 a year for life satisfaction and $60,000 to $75,000 a year for emotional well-being according to psychologists from Purdue University and the University of Virginia. In the United States, the gross domestic product per capita increased by more than a trillion dollars over the three years data was collected. However, the happiness ranking of the United States during that time frame dropped four spots. Social support, freedom, and generosity seem to be the most significant underlying factors among the happiest countries.

Wellness and Environmental Conditions

Research shows that well-being and ecological sustainability go hand in hand. Countries with the highest levels of happiness and social trust also have the strongest environmental protections. Biophilia is a viable explanation for this correlation. Biophilia refers to the hypothesis that there is a natural connection between human beings and other living organisms. This is to say that nature has a direct, positive impact on our happiness. There is evidence in psychology suggesting that being exposed to natural environments improves our mental health and well-being. Spending time in nature is said to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.

Studies show that short-term exposure to nature supports health and well-being. A study on the recovery process of surgical patients shows that patients placed in a room with a view of nature had a faster recovery process than those placed in a room with a view of a brick wall. In a follow-up experiment, researchers had participants watch a stressful film and followed that by exposing them to various videos either of natural settings or urban ones. Finally, they measured the participants’ stress levels. The results demonstrate that even watching videos of nature has been proven to have psychological benefits.

Care for the Earth: Become Environmental Stewards

It is clear that a healthy environment is an essential part of human survival, happiness, and satisfaction. Earth is our only home and it is our responsibility to take care of it. Our well-being depends on this planet; it provides us food, water, and every other resource necessary for sustaining life on Earth. Whether motivated by religion like the Bhutanese, or by investment in your community and personal wellbeing, we must all strive to be better stewards of the environment.

There are a variety of ways to achieve this. We can start by reducing our consumption and other activities that may be causing harm to the environment. Check out these other articles from Planet Home on how you can be part of the solution, how to go zero waste, and ways to eat more sustainably. We want future generations to grow up feeling happy, healthy, and prosperous, and for this to be possible we must guarantee them a livable planet.