Human nature: why we should all be getting outdoors

"It is easy to believe that the society and institutions we have constructed are the be all and end all of everything, yet nature reminds me that this isn’t the case." Charlotte Murphy encourages us to take advantage of our state-issued exercise.

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At the moment, I feel more grateful than ever to live where I do. My house backs on to fields meaning whichever direction I go in, I get to be surrounded by nature. These past few weeks, I have come across so many more people wandering across the fields for their daily exercise. While we all have more time on our hands, families are choosing to take time out of their day to get out of the house, and to slow down and reconnect with nature. 

Understandably, the increase in people coming to rural areas has caused a few practical issues. Some of the key issues involve people letting their dogs free around livestock without realising the damage it can cause, and the reduced ability for social distancing if people are walking down narrow country paths in close proximity to each other. However, in my opinion, any negatives of this increase use of outdoor space are outweighed by the positive impacts for physical and mental health. The increase in people wanting to be in nature shows that we all instinctively know how important nature is for our wellbeing as a species, and we rely on nature more than we might admit in a world where productivity and technology now control our lives. 

There is something so reassuring about being in nature. Having your feet firmly planted on ground which has been the same for thousands of years, seeing the seasons change as reliably as they do every year. Recently, I walked past a bomb shelter which appeared to be randomly placed in a field on the outskirts of a local village. That soil, if it could speak, would tell so many tales, both beautiful and tragic; the bomb shelter and the fields around it act as a reminder that we got through the atrocities of the world wars. 

The fact that so much time can be traced back through nature is incredibly comforting. Nature has been a constant through so much that may have felt like the end of the world. Feeling grounded and secure is somewhat of a luxury at the best of times, but in the midst of this pandemic it can feel unattainable. The sense that nature is everlasting does a lot to combat that feeling of floating without an anchor, and it reminds you that, from any situation – an essay crisis, an argument, any problem that seems insurmountable – there is a way out. It is easy to believe that the society and institutions we have constructed are the be all and end all of everything, yet nature reminds me that this isn’t the case. There are bigger things than all of this, and we should remember that our day-to-day worries, while obviously important to us, don’t have to mean everything. The constant presence of nature helps us to put things into perspective. 

As well as being comforted by the knowledge that nature has always been there, it is also lovely to see the sheep and cattle around in spring and summer every year. Not only do they remind us that summer is starting, but their presence is again reassuring; they don’t have any trivial worries, and simply live their lives. Animals, in general, allow you to take your mind away from the stresses of everyday life, and I find that they remind me to enjoy the world I live in. When I watch my dog having fun, sniffing around in curiosity and searching for new things each day, it makes me realise how interconnected all forms of life are. It is not just me who can appreciate the sights, scents and sounds of nature, but my dog can, and the livestock can too. The co-existence of animals with humans in nature shows us that all living things do belong together in some way. We are different beings and we all enjoy in nature in different ways, but the fundamental quality of nature brings happiness and adds a new dimension to life. Humans may differ from animals in terms of our higher cognitive abilities, but we too evolved out of nature and are, as a result, still intrinsically connected to it. 

The importance of our connection to nature may seem like a subjective, personal belief, but that is not the case. The University of Derby analysed over 50 studies and found that people who are more connected with nature have “greater eudaimonic well-being…and in particular have higher levels of self-reported personal growth.” Being stuck inside all day, it can feel like our lives are stagnant and that there is no way to better the situation. It can be so refreshing just to get outside and have a change of scenery. Just because we have to have our classes and tutorials in the same room all the time now, it doesn’t mean we have to be stuck in that room for the entire day. Having the ability to be so close to nature is a luxury that I really appreciate, but wherever you are, the importance of stepping away from concrete walls and into a bit of fresh air is obvious. Nature is not just pretty, but it provides a form of restoration, something which we all need from time to time.