A sibling of mine made me aware of a few recent studies published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, which have yielded results which I do not find surprising. Nevertheless, it is wonderful that someone went out, collected the data, analyzed it, and alleviated doubts on the matter. It might also explain my altered moods of late.
Spending time in nature makes people feel more alive, study shows
ScienceDaily (2010-06-04) -- Being outside in nature makes people feel more alive, finds a series of studies. And that sense of increased vitality exists above and beyond the energizing effects of physical activity and social interaction that are often associated with our forays into the natural world. ... > read full article
I buy it. I've found that when I'm living in a city, it helps a great deal to have easy access to natural areas. In Boston, it was very convenient just to be by the river and esplanade, though I found it even more relaxing to ride out onto the Emerald Necklace, a chain of parks and arboretums weaving their way into South Boston. Cape Town is, well... Cape Town. There's no shortage of natural splendor in that city.
Imprinting may also play an important role in these effects. The primordial human living conditions were under strong sun, on the plains and in the fields. Most people I meet are a bit depressed when the sun doesn't shine on a given day, but that doesn't bother me. I spent all of my childhood in the rainswept Pacific Northwest, living beneath a hillside forest. Despite how much I despised rain as a child, these days I find myself energized by rain and forests. In particular, I enjoy those warm, almost tropical summer rains, the kind you can smell in the air several minutes before they begin.
Field work obviously places one in natural settings a great deal, and probably does wonders for a person's health. Unfortunately, my personal experience doesn't shed too much light on this, since my lifestyle differs drastically when I'm doing field work; there's a lot of hidden factors that could be confounding my experience. Its very interesting that they mention biodiversity as being a crucial factor, since Cape Town provides data points from both extremes of the spectrum.
Fynbos and the entire Cape Floral Kingdom is one of the most diverse environments on the planet, despite being so rare. On the other hand, for hundreds of years, European settlers have grown timber plantations on land which was previously filled with fynbos. These plantations must have very low biodiversity, as the trees are imported, regularly planted to maximize yield, and devoid of most undergrowth. Baboons seem to like the trees, though.
Could we find a significant difference in mood between when I've followed the baboons through plantation or fynbos? I'm inclined to to be pessimistic since any harmony established by the fynbos is negated by the annoyance of having to trudge through a dozen species of spined shrubbery.