By Mark Waghorn via SWNS
Natural landscapes really do boost human well-being, according to new research.
They can range from freshwater to clean air - making life better in myriad ways.
A study has identified multiple intersecting pathways linking non-material possessions to happiness.
Co-author Professor Alexandros Gasparatos said: "It is particularly interesting to note that the identified pathways and mechanisms rather than affecting human well-being independently, often interact strongly."
"This can create negative trade-offs in some contexts, but also important positive synergies that can be leveraged to provide multiple benefits to human well-being."
They are dubbed CESs (cultural ecosystem services) - and can emerge through recreation, social experiences or nature's spiritual value and our sense of place.
The University of Tokyo team identified 227 unique routes through which human interaction positively or negatively affects well-being.
These were then used to isolate 16 distinct underlying mechanisms through which people experience these effects.
It could help policymakers benefit society through the careful use and protection of the intangible benefits of nature.
Lead author Lam Huynh, a graduate student, said: "Another of the knowledge gaps we identified is that the existing literature on these nonmaterial dimensions of human-nature relationships mainly focuses on the well-being of individuals rather than on collective community wellbeing.
"This significant gap hinders our capacity to identify possible synergies and trade-offs in ecosystem management research and practice."
The review of 301 previous studies sheds fresh light on why a bit of fresh air and spending time in the garden energizes and relaxes us, respectively.
Aside from clean water, food and useful raw materials, nature provides many other benefits that we might overlook or find hard to grasp and quantify, said the researchers.
Better understanding could aid real-world decision-making about the environment, helping individuals and the wider society.
Huynh said: "We identified 227 unique linkages between a single CES such as recreation or aesthetic value and a single constituent of human well-being such as connectedness, spirituality or health.
"We knew that there are many linkages, but we were surprised to find quite so many of them. Then, through further critical reading, we could identify major commonalities."
For example, there can be positive interactions through 'cohesive,' 'creative' and 'formative' mechanisms, but also negative interactions through 'irritative' and 'destructive' mechanisms.
Previous studies had identified some of these mechanisms, but 10 were newly defined, including the more negative effects, clearly showing that our well-being is linked to the intangible aspects of nature in many more ways than previously thought.
The study found the negative contributions to wellbeing came mainly through the degradation or loss of CESs, and through ecosystem 'disservices.'
This includes annoyance at wildlife noise, which can affect some people's mental health in particular.
On the other hand, the highest positive contributions of CESs were to both mental and physical health, which were generated mainly through recreation, tourism and aesthetic value.
There may still be more links that have not yet been identified, especially as the review revealed gaps in the current research landscape.
Prof Gasparatos said: "We hypothesize missing pathways and mechanisms could be present in ecosystem-dependent communities, and especially traditional and Indigenous communities, considering their very unique relations with nature."
The researchers have now received a grant to explore the effects of CESs provision to well-being in the urban spaces of Tokyo.
Prof Gasparatos added: "This project is a logical follow-up to test whether and how some of the identified pathways and mechanisms unfold in reality and intersect with human well-being."
The study was published in the journal Science Advances.
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