Nice people like to frolic through the forest and make flower crowns for one another – or does it work the other way around?
Studies suggest that spending time in nature could actually make you more inclined to treat others with kindness and generosity, as well as more likely to trust them to do the right thing.
Participants in a study done by the University of Southern California and UC-Berkeley were more likely to act in a prosocial way during economic games after viewing beautiful images of nature than their counterparts who had not viewed the images.
In another University of California study, participants were asked to complete a survey while sitting by either an especially beautiful plant or an ugly, boring one. After the survey, researchers asked the subjects for their help in completing a chore. The participants who sat next to the attractive plants were more likely to help with the task than those who were sitting next to the heinous ones. Is it time to buy your grouchy receptionist a pot of tulips to replace her dying fern? Perhaps so, suggests this research.
There is further scientific evidence that may explain why the natural world affects us this way. Finnish, Japanese, and American researchers have all found that being in nature, or even just looking at images of the outdoors, decreases the heart rate. A decreased heart rate signifies a decrease in stress. Based on these findings, the relaxed hippie who spends her days outdoors, gives freely to others, and preaches world peace may be more than just a stereotype. Relaxation, happiness, and kindness are widely known to go hand in hand. As Elle Woods points out in the movie Legally Blonde, “Happy people don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t!”
Having recently moved from an east coast city to a home near the mountains myself, I can’t help but notice that people seem friendlier out west. My neighbors are less hurried and stressed, and I wonder if Colorado’s emphasis on nature and outdoor activities has something to do with this mindset. It’s hard not to feel a connection to the earth and spirituality when sitting on the edge of a still lake. Even a rushed morning commute can have the sting taken out of it when the highway has a mountain view.
Unfortunately, we can’t all relocate to a cabin deep in the forest or a beachfront condo. We can put this information to use in other ways, though. Sending roses to a grumpy wife or taking a step outside when you are about to blow your lid might just turn a terrible day into a fantastic one – and who wouldn’t want to take that risk?