Feeling lonely? Go for a walk in the woods, science says

    A little bit of Mother Nature can bring a serious dose of happiness to city dwellers, a new study has found.

    Feelings of loneliness can be massively alleviated by getting in contact with nature, especially for those living in dense urban environments, according to research published Monday in the journal Scientific Reports.

    For what the paper’s authors claim is “the first study to examine aspects of the surrounding environment that might contribute to increase or decrease the feeling of loneliness as people go about their daily life,” the researchers collected real-time data through the smartphone application Urban Mind to gauge the impact of the environment on mood. 

    What they found is that “perceived overcrowding” correlates with an increase in loneliness (specifically, an increase of 39% on average) while seeing natural elements — like trees, the sky or birds — decreases lonely feelings by 28%. 

    It may seem obvious that fresh air and green grass make for feelings of contentedness, but the idea of loneliness generally implies feelings of isolation from fellow humans — not the Earth and its natural environments. Thus, the scientists are careful to contrast their findings on the benefits of connectivity to nature with the drawbacks of the hyper-connectivity of the internet.

    “​​Despite the ever increasing levels of social connectivity, loneliness as a form of ‘social pain’ has become one of the defining issues of the modern society,” begins the paper’s introduction before going on to establish that too high a density of humans actually leads to feelings of unhappiness and, perhaps counterintuitively, loneliness. 

    They conclude that, “Specific measures, which would increase social inclusion and contact with nature while reducing overcrowding, should be implemented, especially in densely populated cities.”

    New research has found that seeing trees and the sky are correlated with feeling less lonely.
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    These findings demonstrate just how similar the wellbeing of society is to the health of the natural world, social architecture artist and study team member Michael Smythe told the Guardian.

    “Environmental health and public health are one and the same,” Smythe said.

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