Renewing our Hope with the Beauty of Nature
Do you realize how much we are nurtured by the beauty of nature? Renaissance Neoplatonists described this beauty as food for the soul. Throughout time, nature's beauty has been a consolation for life's struggles and storms, refreshing our spirits, renewing our hope.
To renew our hope after over a year of Covid challenges, we can take our cue from philosophers, poets, and saints who found inspiration and renewal in nature. During China's warring states period, Lao Tzu found hope reflecting on the wisdom of nature, recording his insights in the Tao Te Ching. Medieval abbess Hildegard of Bingen discovered "veriditas," the greening power of life, a source of vitality, goodness, and health. In the Renaissance, Shakespeare's comedies celebrated nature's "green world" where people discovered new possibilities, and poet Andrew Marvell found inspiration in the garden, experiencing "a green thought in a green shade."
In our own time, research has shown how with connecting with nature can relieve stress, improve our health, and make us more caring and compassionate (Kaplan, 1995;Weinstein, Przbylski, & Ryan, 2009; Zhang, Piff, Iyer, Koleva, & Keltner, 2014). Renewing our relationship with nature can help restore our hope, revealing a sense of oneness beyond what can seem a fragmented and hostile world (Mayer, Frantz, Bruehlman-Senecal, & Doliver, 2009). We can experience these benefits by practicing savoring and gratitude.
Savor Nature's Beauty. We can focus on nature by looking up at the trees, listening to the songs of birds, enjoying a cooling summer breeze, and pausing to notice the beauty of a rose, a vibrant summer sunset, or the stars sparkling overhead. We can enjoy summer harvests—the taste of a ripe peach or home grown tomatoes. Psychologists call these small acts of appreciation "savoring." Taking a moment from your busy days to focus on the beauty around you can bring greater resilience and well-being to your life (Hurley & Kwon, 2013; Smith & Hollinger-Smith, 2015).
How can you savor the beauty of this day?
Practice Gratitude. We can practice gratitude by pausing at the end of the day to reflect on the beautiful gifts we've experienced. Research has shown that a simple gratitude practice can lower our blood pressure, strengthen our immune systems, promote greater happiness and well-being, lower stress and anxiety, reduce the risk of depression, and improve our relationships (Emmons & Stern, 2013). Gratitude can even make us less self-critical and more compassionate toward ourselves ( Petrocchi & Couyoumdjian, 2016).
You can begin a gratitude practice by recalling three things you're grateful for—the beauty of this summer day, the time to connect with nature, a special friend, family member, or playful pet, for the time to share a meal, listen to your favorite music, read and reflect, or gain a new insight. You can include gratitude in your daily meditation practice or write down what you're grateful for. Psychologists recommend keeping a gratitude journal to focus more intentionally on these daily gifts of joy in our lives (Emmons & Stern, 2013).
Can you think of three things you're grateful for today?
Ironically enough, gratitude and savoring don't come naturally. Paying attention to the daily gifts of beauty in our lives requires practice and discipline. Humans have evolved with a negativity bias. We focus our attention on perceived threats to our survival while taking the good things in life for granted (Rozin & Royzman, 2001; Vaish, Grossman, & Woodward, 2008). This tendency can bring us chronic stress, leading to constant worry, filling our minds with "what ifs" and incessant planning for the future instead of appreciating the present moment.
Yet connecting with nature can help us transcend this negativity bias. Like the characters in Shakespeare's plays, we too can enter the green world of nature to discover greater harmony and new possibilities for our lives.
How can you connect with the green world of nature this summer?
Emmons,R.A.& Stern, R. (2013). Gratitude as a psychotherapeutic intervention. Journal of Clinical Psychology: In Session, 69 (8), 846-855.
Hurley, D. B., & Kwon, P. (2013). Savoring helps most when you have little: Interaction between savoring the moment and uplifts on positive affect and satisfaction with life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14, 1261-1271.
Kaplan, S. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrated framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15, 169-182.
Mayer, F.S., Frantz, C. M. P., Bruehlman-Senecal, E., & Doliver, K. (2009). Why is nature beneficial? The role of connectedness in nature. Environment and Behavior, 41, 607-643.
Petrocchi, N. & Couyoumdjian, A. (2016). The impact of gratitude on depression and anxiety: the mediating role of criticizing, attacking, and reassuring the self. Self and Identity, 15(2), 191-205.
Rozin, P., & Royzman, E. B. (2001). Negativity bias, negativity dominance, and contagion. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5, 296-320.
Smith, J. L., & Hollinger-Smith, L. (2015). Savoring, resilience, and psychological well-being in older adults. Aging & Mental Health, 19, 192-200.
Vaish, A., Grossman, T., & Woodward, A. (2008). Not all emotions are created equal: The negativity bias in social-emotional development. Psychological Bulletin, 134, 383-403.
Weinstein, N., Przybylski, A. K., & Ryan, R. M. (2009). Can nature make us more caring? Effects of immersion in nature on intrinsic aspirations and generosity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 1315-1329.
Zhang, J. W., Piff, P. K., Iyer, R., Koleva, S., & Keltner, D. (2014). An occasion for unselfing: Beautiful nature leads to prosociality. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 37, 61-72.