Connection to nature vs contact with nature: The wellbeing link.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post ‘Connecting to nature, what is it and how do you do it?’ Since then, this term ‘connecting to nature’ has become the new buzz word used liberally to describe any time spent in contact with nature. However, wether you realise it or not you experience nature directly all day every day, the air you breathe, the sun on your skin, the water in the tap, walking under the trees, to name but a few ways. You might have also perceived nature i.e. looked at it from afar through a window, or you might have thought about nature, dreaming of your summer cocktails on the beach. That does not necessarily mean connection.  So  I would like to expand on my previous definition and explain further what this concept means and how it relates to health and wellbeing.

People who have researched the topic extensively define nature connection as:

“Connectedness with nature is a sustained awareness ..of the interrelation between one’s self and the rest of nature..(reflected in) consistent attitudes and behaviours” (Zylstra et al 2014 )


“The extent to which an individual includes nature within his/her cognitive representation of self.” (F.S. Mayer, C.M. Frantz 2004)

Say what?!  These are indeed existential statements that we could spend pages delving into but at the heart they are talking about our sense of relationship with self, others and nature; as it turns out these relationships are at the heart of what we know as wellbeing.

Let me explain! Health is a term that refers to a state of good physical and mental functioning, it has an objectiveness to it in that it can be measured and tested and boxes can be ticked. Wellbeing, on the other hand is otherwise known as spiritual health and it refers to:  ‘intuitive inner feelings and beliefs that give purpose, meaning and values to life (Fisher, 2011) i.e. how you intuitively feel about yourself, your health and your quality of life.  Contrary to popular belief, spiritual wellbeing does not necessarily relate to religion at allIt can not be measured but is often described in the literature as being the most influential aspect of health (Chuengsatiansup. K 2003) . You can have for example great physical fitness but if you don’t feel like your life has meaning, in studies, when asked about their wellbeing people rate it low.

The way we experience positive wellbeing (spiritual health) is through our relationships with self, others and nature and in some cases people may also have a relationship with an ‘existential other . When our relationship is positive we may say we feel connected; connected to our selves like we are living true to our values for example. We will feel   connected to others in strong supportive relationships and we can now go back to Mayer and Frantz or Zylstra above and see that connection to nature is about feeling a strong sense of interrelationship, like the other is part of our ‘selves’. Stephanie Radock puts it beautifully:

“Clearly all people do come from and belong to the earth…..identification with life forms beyond your own increase your empathy and respect for the world and embed you in a big family of relatives and relationships.” (Radock 2012)

The kind of words that people associate with a strong connection to nature is words like empathy, awe, belonging, zest. To come back full circle, the meaning behind these words is clearly different from the indifference of contact. Its not to say that contact can’t lead to a sense of connection or rekindle a sense of connection of course it can but its often a certain kind of contact or experience and that is a story for another day.

1.Chuengsatiansup. K (2003) Spirituality and health: an initial proposal to incorporate spiritual health in health impact assessment. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 23(1) pp. 3-15. Retrieved from

2. Dhar.N, Chaturvedi, S.K., Nandan, D. (2011) Spiritual Health Scale 2011: Defining and Measuring 4th Dimension of Health Indian J Community Med. Oct-Dec; 36(4): 275–282. Retrieved from

3.Fisher, J. (2011) The Four Domains Model: Connecting spirituality, Health and Wellbeing. Religions, 2, 17-28.

4. F.S. Mayer, C.M. Frantz. (2004) The connectedness to nature scale: A measure of individuals’ feeling in community with nature Journal of Environmental Psychology 24(4):503-515

5.Radock, S. ‘an opening: twelve love stories about art (2012) Wakefiled Press, South Australia

6.Zylstra. M. , (2014)Exploring meaningful nature experience connectedness with nature and the revitalization of transformative education for sustainability. PhD


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7 Responses to Connection to nature vs contact with nature: The wellbeing link.

  1. rhinophile says:

    I haven’t ever really thought about the meaning of wellbeing so it was good to consider that meaning here and how wellbeing differs from ‘health’. The older I get, the more connection I feel with nature, whether it be in our suburban garden or at our family farm. It’s not always there, just as I don’t always feel the same connection with friends or even family. This unpredictable element, of not knowing when that connection may be felt, adds a mysterious air to this relationship that makes it rather special. Thanks for this food for thought.

    • You are very welcome and I am glad that it connected some dots for you. You are not alone in not having considered the meaning of wellbeing, it is another word used all the time but often in the wrong ways and often not with thought to what it does actually mean. Interestingly the World Health Organisation does not included the term spiritual health in its up front description of health. When I looked further into their stance on wellbeing I found an interesting report that is referenced in the post, that acknowledged that it is an important part of health but they could not quite work out how to tell people how to achieve it so they left it out until more research and clarity was found. Ironically that will never be found through traditional academic research so not surprisingly we haven’t seen any changes to their official definition yet. I believe that until we start unpacking this word wellbeing in mainstream settings and looking at solutions with this goal in mind, we will never get to the heart of the many issues society faces which many people say is in fact a spiritual crisis!

      • rhinophile says:

        Thanks for your thoughtful reply, just like a real conversation! Have you read David Tacey’s ‘God and Diseases’? The longer version of the title is ‘Making sense of our physical and mental wellbeing’. It has been a very influential book for me. (Although it obviously didn’t influence my understanding of the definition of ‘wellbeing’!)

      • No I haven’t but I will look for that. Wellbeing has many facets and being highly emotional and empathetic in nature it is very very difficult to put into words; what I have offered is the fundamental explanation of wellbeing. The complexity comes when you unpack what is a relationship/sense of connection with self and others and what influences that. Most of the literature on wellbeing explains the concept at that next level of detail and that is where the many theories come into play the most popular at the moment being positive psychology. There are also theories that talk about social health, emotional health and even occupational health but some researchers say they are part of spiritual wellbeing and I would agree, they are captured with-in healthy relationships with self, others and nature.

  2. Pingback: HumaNature Connect: Connecting to Nature – What does this mean and how do you do it? | NaturePsyc

  3. Pingback: Connection to nature vs contact with nature: The wellbeing link. | NaturePsyc

  4. simply-julieann says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I agree that there’s a difference between health and well-being. Your blog is so informative and thanks for those references or links you’ve shared.

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