Children Who Feel Connected to Nature Likely to Be Happier, Study Suggests

Children who feel connected to nature are also more likely to say they're happy, a study suggests.

As past research has found a link between happiness and a relationship with nature in adults, the authors of the paper published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology wanted to see if the same is true in kids.

The research involved 296 children in a northwestern Mexican city, who were aged between 9 to 12. The team measured how connected the participants felt to nature by asking them to rate how much they enjoyed activities like seeing wild flowers and interacting with animals. They also assessed the children's attitude towards sustainability, by asking them questions about behaviors which the team deemed to be related: altruism, equality, frugality, and being eco-friendly. That included asking whether they would give away money and used clothing, and quizzing them on their views on equality, and saving water.

Kids who saw themselves as more connected to nature were more likely to act sustainably, the team found. In addition, the more concerned the participants were about the environment, as well as being eco-friendly, altruistic and fair, the more likely they were to say they were happy. However, the team found the smallest link between frugality and happiness, which they believe could be down to the fact this may not have been a choice for the children.

The authors cited existing research which coined the term "nature-deficit disorder" to describe the lack of connectedness that children feel about the natural world" to "evoke a lack of a bond with other living beings." This could in turn risk the future of the planet, they suggested.

The study comes amid a boom in concern about the environment, partly prompted by a report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018 which warned we have around a decade to avoid catastrophic climate change. And young people, including teenager Greta Thunberg, have taken a pivotal role in the movement, rallying against inaction by law and policymakers against climate change.

Explaining their motivation for conducting the research, the authors wrote: "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 about the determinants of sustainable behaviors in children become more relevant; nonetheless, studies on this topic focusing on children are scarce."

However, the researchers acknowledged the study was limited because the participants' experiences might not be reflective of other populations.

Lead author Dr Laura Berrera-Hernández of the Sonora Institute of Technology (ITSON) said in a statement: "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."

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A stock image shows a child looking through a hole in a leaf. Getty