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Measuring Happiness for Reconnecting Residents with Forests

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In recent years, a large number of urban residents in Japan get interested in outdoor activities like camping, hiking and even therapy. The national and some regional governments, such as Shiga Prefecture, have recognised both the economic and health opportunities and have implemented policies for promoting such activities. Therefore, understanding forest-related subjective well-being (SWB), or ‘forest happiness,’ is becoming more important than ever.

A new study, published in the Journal of the Japanese Forest Society, by a multidisciplinary team comprising of an ecologist, psychologist, sociologist, and an economist at the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (RIHN), Japan, sought factors that affect forest happiness as a part of the RIHN project ‘Biodiversity-driven nutrient cycling and human well-being in social-ecological systems.’ 

‘Global interest in SWB is on the rise, as shown by the fact that 26 countries in the OECD collect SWB data. It has been proposed that there is a relationship between the connectedness with nature and happiness and that ecosystem services can promote SWB,’ explains Professor Takuya Takahashi, who led the study.

The research team conducted a large-scale questionnaire survey targeting residents of the upper watershed of Yasu River, the largest river flowing into Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture, to measure four types of forest happiness. The following questions were asked:

  • Forest satisfaction: How satisfied are you with your current relationship with forests? 
  • Forest fulfilment: How much worth, fulfilment, or sense of accomplishment do you feel regarding your relationship with forests?
  • Positive and negative affect (feelings): Which of the following feelings have you experienced with forests? (For this item, respondents were provided with the following list of feelings: forward-looking, backwards-looking, pleasant, not pleasant, happy, sad, fearful, joyful, angry, satisfied, proud, shameful, awe, and respect.)

The team collected 1,457 responses. The average points for forest satisfaction and forest fulfilment were 5.03 and 4.58, respectively. The team also investigated relationships between these four types of forest happiness with personal attributes, forest ratios (percentage of area/land in the respondent’s residential area), forest-related activities, and forest ownership.

Each forest-related activity was correlated differently with the four types of forest happiness. Observing animals and plants, for example, raised positive effects and lowered negative effects. Management activities of privately-owned forests raised forest satisfaction as well as forest fulfilment, and management as a forest volunteer raised forest fulfilment. However, management activities in community forests lowered positive affect. ‘This may be due to the obligatory nature of management activities for community-owned forests,’ Takahashi says.

Surprisingly, forest ownership was negatively correlated with all four types of forest happiness. That is, forest owners, on average, feel less forest happiness compared with non-owners. ‘The reason for this could be forest owners were feeling forest ownership and management burdensome because the asset value of forests has been low in recent decades,’ said Takahashi.

‘These results suggest better policies for enhancing forest happiness and relationships between residents and forests. Measuring and analysing forest happiness based on the suggested four types would be a powerful tool for re-establishing the relationship between residents and forests and helping them enjoy forest ecosystem services.’

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