Will Going "Green" Make You Happier?

An eco-friendly lifestyle may benefit the environment--and your emotional health

Sure, going green is good for you: Eating organic keeps pesticides and antibiotics off your plate and out of our soil and oceans. Biking and walking instead of driving help you stay fit while reducing heat-trapping traffic pollution that worsens asthma and possibly allergies. But could adopting environmentally-friendly behaviors also make you happier?

A growing body of evidence suggests that being kind to the environment is, in fact, also good for our wellbeing. Studies by Knox College psychologist Tim Kasser, Ph.D., showed that teens and adults with ecologically responsible habits such as recycling, shutting off lights they weren’t using and reusing paper, plastic bags and aluminum foil were happier than those who didn’t practice conservation. And revelers who reported having happier, less stressful holidays were those who used organic, locally grown foods.

“We consistently find a correlation between the extent to which people feel connected to nature and various wellbeing measures: They feel more positive emotions, more life satisfaction and more connected to people,” says Cindy McPherson Frantz, Ph.D., an associate professor at Oberlin College in Ohio, who has studied the relationship between people’s happiness and their connection to nature.

It’s unknown what comes first -- feeling at one with nature or being happy -- or why the link between the two exists. In a 2009 study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, people who looked at pictures of natural scenes, such as a desert, tended to care more afterwards about relationships and community than those who looked at man-made objects, such as buildings. This attitude may have an environmental impact, psychologists at the University of Sussex in England reported in a separate study last year. Exposing a child to nature, whether by hiking, gardening or camping can create a bond with the natural world that cultivates a desire to protect it. “Part of why we benefit from being out in nature is that it gets us out of ourselves,” Frantz says. “We feel connected to something bigger than ourselves and it’s inherently positive. Engaging in helping and pro-social behavior makes people feel better -- it literally lights up the pleasure center of the brain.”

Next>> More green mood boosters

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