That’s what ‘biophilia’ is. It’s the simple, core truth that humans need a connection with nature to be content. It’s the idea that people – since the beginning of time – must feel linked to their natural environment and the other living things in it to not only survive but to thrive. It’s a fundamental part of who we are.
The word ‘biophilia’ literally means ‘love of life’. It was first used in the 1960s by social psychologist Eric Fromm, in his book ‘The Heart of Man’, and then popularised two decades later by conservationist Edward Wilson. To understand why biophilia works, it’s important to know that, for the entirety of human existence, nature has provided all the resources we need to thrive: the sun gives us warmth, light, orientation and a sense of time; night gives us the cue to sleep and recuperate; plants give us food, medicine, materials for making things; trees give us shelter, firewood and timber for construction; animals give us companionship, labour and food; and streams and rivers give us water and washing.
Modern society, where most people live in densely populated, urban surroundings, is increasingly separating us from any meaningful contact with nature. But why should that matter? The answer is that we have discovered that there is a direct link between contact with nature and wellbeing. Studies have shown that having a connection with natural surroundings (from spending time in gardens to petting animals, forest bathing to looking at images of nature) can bolster memory, reduce anxiety and depression, improve concentration and significantly reduce stress levels. People also show physiological responses to nature, from lower heart rates and blood pressure to improved immune responses, reduced inflammation and better sleep patterns.
Best of all, nature can help us heal. Studies have shown that hospital patients whose beds look out onto a green space get better more quickly and with less pain relief than patients who don’t. Florence Nightingale knew this, two hundred years ago, when she scribbled, ‘I shall never forget the rapture of fever patients over a bunch of bright-coloured flowers…People say the effect is only on the mind. It is no such thing. The effect is on the body too.’