Plants and Mental Wellbeing: Why Greener Cities Boost Happiness

11 January 2021

man in park with laptop

Revered thinkers throughout history have found their greatest inspiration in nature. From Plato to Buddha to Isaac Newton, gardens, trees and greenery have provided the environment for great minds to do their best thinking. Today we know why.

Greenery boosts happiness. Numerous scientific studies into the effects of green spaces on human psychology have produced hard evidence that we feel and perform better when surrounded by plant life.

Nature eliminates the negative

An important factor in boosting happiness levels is to reduce or eliminate conditions that impact on mental wellbeing, such as depression and stress. Both of these conditions are on the increase and are most prevalent in built-up environments. Creating new green spaces and introducing plants inside buildings can help to improve the situation.

Studies have shown that spending time among greenery has a beneficial effect on stress, depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions such as ADD, ADHD, self-esteem and dementia.

Soldiers being treated for PTSD have shown better outcomes when receiving nature-based therapy and rehabilitation programmes. In a Korean study, patients with depression receiving cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in a natural setting showed a success rate 20-30% higher than those receiving the same treatment in hospital.

Plants accentuate the positive

As well as reducing the symptoms of negative conditions like stress and depression, green environments have been shown to enhance positive brain functions, including memory, concentration and creativity.

Several studies testing the memory function of participants in different environments have shown that people can focus and recall more effectively after spending time in a green space than they can after time in a built-up environment.

Just being able to see nature and plant life while we’re working has been shown to make us more productive and alert, as well as more relaxed and happy. And a walk among nature relaxes us, opens the mind and boosts creativity.

Some studies have even found that long-term exposure to the complex architecture of natural environments increases brain size in animals and theoretically in humans too. Just watch out for apples falling on your head!

Green means health

In addition to the psychological soothing and enhancing effects of green environments, they provide a physical benefit too, both indoors and outdoors. Green spaces encourage exercise, triggering the production of endorphins – the body’s natural mood enhancers. Plants take pollutants out of the air too, which can otherwise cause runny noses, itchy eyes and other irritations that impact on our mood and wellbeing.

The more we fill our cities with green spaces and plant life, the more contented, fulfilled, relaxed and happy we will feel. Just as nature intended.

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