Humans and Nature: How Knowing and Experiencing Nature Affect Well-Being

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Annual Review of Environment and Resources


Annual Reviews

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Ecosystems provide many of the material building blocks for human well-being. Although quantification and appreciation of such contributions have rapidly grown, our dependence upon cultural connections to nature deserves more attention. We synthesize multidisciplinary peer-reviewed research on contributions of nature or ecosystems to human well-being mediated through nontangible connections (such as culture). We characterize these connections on the basis of the channels through which such connections arise (i.e., knowing, perceiving, interacting with, and living within) and the components of human well-being they affect (e.g., physical, mental and spiritual health, inspiration, identity). We found enormous variation in the methods used, quantity of research, and generalizability of the literature. The effects of nature on mental and physical health have been rigorously demonstrated, whereas other effects (e.g., on learning) are theorized but seldom demonstrated. The balance of evidence indicates conclusively that knowing and experiencing nature makes us generally happier, healthier people. More fully characterizing our intangible connections with nature will help shape decisions that benefit people and the ecosystems on which we depend.

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