How does engaging with nature relate to life satisfaction? Demonstrating the link between environment-specific social experiences and life satisfaction

Biedenweg, K., Scott, R. P., & Scott, T. A.

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Biedenweg, K., Scott, R. P., & Scott, T. A. (2017). How does engaging with nature relate to life satisfaction? Demonstrating the link between environment-specific social experiences and life satisfaction. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 50, 112–124.

Ecosystem Services , Environmental Indicators , Human Wellbeing , Life Satisfaction

The natural environment contributes to human wellbeing in a variety of ways, including providing outdoor recreation venues and underpinning cultural practices. Understanding whether the diversity of human-nature experiences significantly relate to overall subjective wellbeing, however, is rarely explored. Using results from 4418 respondents to an online survey conducted in Washington's Puget Sound region, we describe the relationship between overall life satisfaction and diverse metrics of how people engage with the natural environment. We found that eleven of the thirteen tested metrics had a small but positive correlation to overall life satisfaction and specific groupings of environment-specific social indicators were internally reliable constructs that predicted life satisfaction. These included: Sense of Place, Outdoor Activities, Good Governance, Social and Cultural Activities, Psychological Well- being, and Resource Access. This research empirically demonstrates that a variety of mechanisms for engaging the natural environment significantly contribute to overall subjective wellbeing.

Main finding
Naturalistic environments may play an important role in human wellbeing. Using an online survey, this study explores the relationship between participants' self-reported frequency of different naturalistic experiences (e.g., outdoor recreation, etc.) and overall wellbeing and life satisfaction. Analysis of survey data reveals five categories of engaging the environment have a positive impact on human wellbeing: (a) psychological benefits from spending time outdoors, (b) outdoor recreational activities, (c) environmentally related social and cultural events, (d) sense of place, and (e) trust in environmental governance.

Description of method used in the article
An online survey of people in the Puget Sound region (N = 4,418) of Washington State, USA. The research team developed a 13-item survey wherein participants would give self assessments of the frequency of various experiences in nature (e.g., outdoor recreation in summer and winter, with family, feeling inspired in nature, etc.), access to local wild resources, trust in policymakers and scientists, attachment to the region, and standardized life satisfaction. Results were analyzed to explore relationships. NOTE: Due to limitations in survey administration, the team used a “microsurvey structure” (p. 114) and administered only a portion of the questions to each participant, then used a “probabilistic estimate for empty-unasked-cells” (p. 114) to estimate missing responses.

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