When you step into the great outdoors—whether you’re spending the weekend camping, hiking for miles amongst trees, or simply sitting in your backyard—do you instantly feel a tingling sense of calm and, dare we say it, peace? A feeling that everything in your world is okay, at least for a few fleeting-but-blissful minutes? There’s a word for that! It’s called biophilia. According to Psychology Today, the term biophilia was coined in the 1960s by a German-American philosopher, Erich Fromm, and later popularized by Edward O. Wilson, a professor at Harvard. In short, the term (which literally means “love of life”) describes how humans have an innate urge to seek loving connections with other forms of life. In other words, those calm, peaceful feelings you get when you’re just standing around outside? They’re totally legit.
There’s a lot we, as humans, can gain from sustained time spent in natural environments, including major physical and mental health benefits. Not only this, but the biophilia hypothesis also posits that contact with nature is essential for our ability to be productive in the workplace. Of course, for most of us who work in sterile office environments and live on our smartphones, this is easier said than done. But taking even five minutes out of your day to connect with nature can have a profound impact on your work performance. This is why so many major tech companies (like Google and Amazon) are now incorporating biophilic design—pathways through adjacent gardens, views of trees, green roofs and walls, an abundance of plants—into their buildings. Which is awesome, of course. However, this isn’t exactly a substitute for spending time outdoors.
So, take a break from your desk every once in a while and get outside. Need further motivation? Here are three ways spending time in nature enhances your work productivity.
Being in nature decreases your stress levels.
Just looking at trees, or going for a short walk around your neighborhood, can seriously help reduce your stress levels. In fact, researchers in Japan (where the concept of ‘forest bathing’, or taking time to be in nature to improve your mood, originated) have discovered that sitting in natural surroundings can drastically boost your immune system while simultaneously lowering your blood pressure and heart rate.
Getting outdoors improves your mood.
Perhaps not surprisingly, in addition to decreasing stress levels, getting outside (without your smartphone intact!) can help put you in a more positive mood. Exposing your skin to the sun’s UV rays is crucial when it comes to getting the Vitamin D that your body so desperately needs—the “sunshine vitamin” is ultra-important for restoring your mental wellness.
Spending time outside improves your memory and attention span.
Multiple studies have found that spending time outside can help improve your memory functions, as well as your attention span. As opposed to chaotic urban environments (with all their noise and crazy energy) that tend to pull our attention in several directions at once, natural scenery helps to calm our minds and sharpen our focus.
Justine Harrington is a freelance journalist, essayist, and copywriter for travel and lifestyle brands based in Austin. Her work has appeared in Fodor’s, Backpacker, USA Today, the Austin-American Statesman, Austin Monthly, Austin Woman, Misadventures Magazine, and elsewhere.