If real estate developers cared for our mental health
"Live here and be happy forever."
I have not come across a tagline of a real estate development that exactly says that but most if not all of them always appeal to your sense of mental satisfaction. Whether it is to make you think that living in that development signals improvement in your status or your control over your own comings and goings, developers would, of course, always make you think that you will have a better life living there than anywhere else.
For those who are lucky enough to be able to have some degree of control as to where they would choose to live, you probably have your own set of criteria to guide you in your own decision-making. But if the overall goal is to be "happy" where you live, what is one of the most essential elements that should be in your physical space? Nature.
In a recent study, researchers equated nature's contribution to your mental well-being with an increase in your income. Nature is not only for the obvious, which is to ensure natural support systems for the air that you breathe, the water that you drink, and the land that you walk on for your physical health and comfort. Nature is also crucial for your mental health, and a recent study lays out evidence why this is so.
The said study takes off from bodies of evidence in previous studies that link nature and psychological well-being. They summarize the results of these large swaths of work in the form of consensus.
The first consensus is that there is definitely a link between common types of nature experiences and an increase in psychological well-being. The evidence for this ranges from single to sustained nature experiences affecting human psychological well-being. This is characterized by an increase in happiness, positive social interactions, cohesion and engagement, a sense of meaning and purpose, improved manageability of life tasks, decrease in distress, with others even showing positive links to memory and attention, impulse control, school performance, and imagination and creativity.
The second consensus actually points to nature experience being related to a reduction in the risk factors for some types of mental illness. Some of the evidence for this is indirect such as improved sleep and reductions in perceived and physiologically measured stress. Science has already established that poor sleep and levels of stress put you at risk of mental illness. As for anxiety disorders, the existing studies point to green spaces as having a positive mediating effect on anxiety disorders, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, and depression. In all these studies, other factors such as socioeconomic status, gender, and age are mixed in with how nature experiences relate to mental illness.
The two agreements above should not surprise us if we remind ourselves that we humans have been directly living with nature 99.99% of our existence. We modern humans and our modern version of life, with its radically diminished proportion of nature, occupy a miniscule .01% of human existence. This means that the natural imperatives of our bodies and minds are undoubtedly still there, despite our insane love affair with urbanization. We have evolved with and in nature and thus need more than just instagrammable brushes with it in order to live. We are directly hooked to nature – body and mind.
But with the rapid take over of natural spaces by heedless urbanization (the world will be about 70% urban by 2050) and our increasing reliance on algorithms to define our post-modern world, what does this spell for our mental health?
The third concensus points to exactly the decline of nature experiences accessible in these times and what this is doing to us, especially the current generation who now has a drastically reduced access to thriving natural spaces and with all the effects of climate crisis and biodiversity loss, even negative experiences with nature.
Actual scientific studies on how we can deepen our nature experiences to improve our mental health are being done on certain practices like "forest bathing" in Japan. In it, the forest bathers are asked to suffuse in the sensations of being in the forest – the smell of the leaves, the bark, the temperature of the air they feel on their skin, the sight and feel of light breaking through the tree canopies, the soft chasse of the running brook's water in your toes and the sound of it in your ear. I have not done it but know of people who have been in it. When I knew about it, I realized it was exactly the experience we cultivated in grad school doing ecological studies. If that is so, we can develop these kinds of experiences in any natural space and not just forests.
So should real estate developers focus only on model house amenities to showcase the highlights of their offering? If they really genuinely believe that their subdivision or condo complex would make their buyers happy when they eventually live in the area they developed, they would always include natural spaces in them. Potential buyers would take to it because we are all naturally wired to connect with nature despite our addictions with consumption bred by urbanization. It is good for our mental health, business, and the planet. – Rappler.com
Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, "Science Solitaire" and "Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire." You can reach her at email@example.com.