According to recent data from the World Happiness Report and General Social Survey (link), Americans are getting more miserable. This trend is in spite of the relatively strong state of the economy. Needless to say, the material piece isn’t all there is to the puzzle of human happiness. Americans are known for working extremely long hours and suffering from chronic pain at alarmingly high rates. More than 1 in 4 children are raised in father-absent homes. And drug abuse has reached epidemic proportions. There are undoubtedly many factors contributing to American misery, but nature is one that is often overlooked. What I’m talking about, of course, is the detrimental effect nature’s deprivation has on human health and well-being.
The professionals have come up with a term for what I just described–it’s called nature-deficit disorder. According to the experts at Psychology Today,
Nature-deficit disorder is not a formal diagnosis, but a way to describe the psychological, physical and cognitive costs of human alienation from nature, particularly for children in their vulnerable developing years.Richard Louv
Nature-deficit disorder is ironic given the great natural beauty present in the United States. If Americans are starved of nature, the United States is gorged on it. But nature-deficit disorder has everything to do with lifestyle and culture. School districts in the US are getting rid of recess to improve test scores (link). With disastrous policy ideas like these, it’s no wonder an increasing number of young Americans are getting medicated for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), anxiety, and depression. It’s not just the recess. When I was in school, teachers assigned hours of homework every day. I would sit in school for seven hours, then go home and do it some more. If it weren’t for sports, I would have spent the entirety of my days indoors. This system may make for good test scores but it doesn’t make for happy, well-adjusted human beings.
Nature-deficit disorder is ironic given the great natural beauty present in the United States. If Americans are starved of nature, the United States is gorged on it. But nature-deficit disorder has everything to do with lifestyle and culture.
It’s not just the kids. Adults who work a 9-5 (really an 8-6 with traffic) have little time for anything else. Taking into account other life responsibilities, nature seems like an afterthought. It just so happens that 9-5 is the approximate window when the human body is capable of producing Vitamin D from the sun. It’s no wonder so many Americans are Vitamin D-deficient, even where sunlight exposure is abundant. And a lot of it is in vain. Nothing takes 8 hours to do a day–and everyone knows it. Most white collar 9-5 employees I talk to work a few hours a day and run the clock out during the rest. Even blue collar employees in industries where the work flow never seems to stop observe huge decreases in productivity after the first several hours. Until Americans get rid of busyness as a status symbol and recognize there is a trade-off between quality and quantity of hours worked, this system is unlikely to evolve.
Until Americans get rid of busyness as a status symbol and recognize there is a trade-off between quality and quantity of hours worked, this system is unlikely to evolve.
Nature is beneficial for human well-being in ways that can’t be quantified (with the exception of Vitamin D). I and myriad others have found that the more time they spend outdoors, the happier they tend to be. This is true for about 8 months of the year here in the Midwest when the weather isn’t brutally cold. I also wouldn’t hold my breath on the American school system and work culture ever progressing. The logic of materialism has won out, and few people in positions of authority seem to care about the social costs.
The silver lining can be found at the level of the individual. There are steps every American can take to maximize their experience of nature. And, in doing so, live in a manner more consistent with the lifestyle of our ancestors.