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Nature Connectedness Offers a Path to Happiness and Environmental Sustainability, Says New Study

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As the world grapples with unprecedented environmental challenges, a remarkable study emerges from Thailand, offering a unique solution to the pursuit of happiness in the 21st century.

A new study, published in Psychreg Journal of Psychology, presents a thought-provoking exploration of happiness from a utilitarian perspective, rooted in the profound connection between human well-being and nature.

The study delves into the intricate relationship between human contentment and environmental health, offering a fresh approach to address Thailand’s critical environmental issues aligned with Sustainable Development Goals 13 (climate action) and 14 (life below water).

The research underscores the pivotal role of nature connectedness – a deep, emotional bond with the natural world – in fostering happiness and combating environmental crises.

Orose Leelakulthanit, PhD, an associate professor at the National Institute of Development Administration in Thailand, emphasises the motivation behind her research. “The impetus behind the study stems from a pressing global concern: the escalating urbanisation witnessed not only in Thailand but also across the world. This urban shift increasingly severs the ties between individuals and nature, thus diminishing the inherent happiness derived from such connections. Simultaneously, this detachment fosters the proliferation of environmental issues, most notably contributing to the daunting challenge of climate change.”

The study challenges the traditional notion that success breeds happiness. Recent findings in psychology and neuroscience reveal that happiness, in fact, fuels success. Happier individuals exhibit better health, creativity, productivity, and resilience. This correlation extends to the workplace and personal relationships, reshaping our understanding of well-being in various life domains.

At the heart of the study is a utilitarian view of happiness: maximising pleasure and minimising pain. The study revisits the philosophy of John Stuart Mill, emphasising that actions leading to the greatest happiness for the most people are deemed morally right. This perspective forms the foundation of her approach to addressing environmental and societal challenges.

Leelakulthanit further expounds on this perspective. “The essence of my motivation lies in recognising the symbiotic relationship between human happiness and environmental stewardship. The premise posits that by reestablishing and nurturing our bond with nature, not only can we bolster our individual well-being, but we can also proactively address the environmental crises looming over us. It’s an acknowledgment that our disconnection from nature not only deprives us of joy but also perpetuates harmful ecological impacts.”

Thailand, like many nations, faces significant environmental challenges that directly impact its people’s quality of life. The study is particularly timely, as it aligns with Thailand’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The paper meticulously examines Thailand’s efforts to integrate Sustainable Development Goals into its national strategies, with a focus on reducing poverty, improving health and education, and fostering sustainable communities and cities.

The study posits that fostering a strong connection with nature can significantly mitigate environmental problems while enhancing individual happiness. She draws upon the biophilia hypothesis, which suggests an innate human tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. This connection is not merely an emotional luxury but a critical component of psychological well-being and pro-environmental behaviour.

Leelakulthanit concludes with a vision for the future. “Looking ahead, my aspiration extends beyond mere scholarly discourse. I envision a future characterised by concerted efforts and collaborative endeavours among diverse stakeholders. This collaborative landscape includes governmental bodies, businesses, non-profit organisations, and the general populace. By aligning their efforts and resources towards fostering a deeper connection with nature, we can collectively navigate towards a more harmonious existence – one where human happiness thrives alongside a restored and resilient natural world.”

The study acknowledges the influence of culture and early life experiences in shaping our relationship with nature. It advocates for integrating nature’s connectedness into children’s upbringing, recognising the lasting impact of early experiences on our affinity for the natural environment.

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