Many studies have examined the hypothesis that our well-being is boosted by spending time outdoors, but until now, not a lot was known about how our “momentary subjective well-being”, as researchers call how you feel-in-the-moment was affected by being outside. Collecting such fleeting data is a challenge, as it’s next-to-impossible for a participant to be followed around by a scientist with a clipboard asking them how they feel every few minutes.
A recent study conducted in the UK, called “Happiness is greater in natural environments” got around this obstacle by designing a specialized smartphone app. More than 20,000 participants downloaded the app on their phone, which would pop up at random intervals throughout the day. The app would ask them brief questions about what they were doing, who they were with, and how they were feeling at that moment while registering the GPS coordinates of the phone’s owner.
At the end of the experiment, more than 1 million data points were collected from the app-wielding participants. The results seem to have confirmed the hypothesis that being outdoors makes us happier. Even when factors such as what they were doing, the time of day, the weather, if they were with friends or family, where they were and what they were doing, being outside trumped all that for predicting momentary subjective well-being. Researchers found that on average, the participants were substantially and significantly happier when they were outside, in a natural habitat or surrounded by greenery. This finding was especially true when it was compared to the participant’s happiness levels while in an urban environment.
The conclusion from the study’s authors boils down to: “This study provides a new line of evidence on links between nature and well-being, strengthening existing proof of a positive relationship between and exposure to green or natural environments in daily life.”
If you’re feeling unenthusiastic, or a bit down in the dumps, try heading outside to your backyard or a local park and enjoy the sunshine and greenery. You might just get the positive boost you need to change your mood into a more positive one, or at least give you some emotional warmth, and you can find that elusive pursuit of happiness for a fleeting moment.