UK happiness researcher George MacKerron’s Mappiness Project is an app that allows users to track activities and feelings throughout their day. The results demonstrate that most of us are the least happy at work, more happy on vacation, with friends or listening to music and the most happy while outside.
When we’re outside most of our senses are engaged, taste is tricky but we’re at least seeing, smelling, hearing and feeling the world around us. That helps us to be more present and in the moment. When we're more mindful, amazing things can happen. Mindfulness allows us to recognize that we are not defined by our thoughts but are rather observers. This distinction is important because it allows us to be happier, more empathic and more secure.
Being outside also increases our exposure to direct sunlight and production of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is a steroid hormone that the Centers for Disease Control estimates 32% of children and adults are deficient in. Maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D lowers risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes while increasing bone density. Researchers recommend 10-minutes exposure to midday sun as a way of ensuring you don’t fall short.
Exposure to sunlight has also been shown to help maintain good eyesight by correcting the distance between the lens and the retina which can become distorted the more time one spends inside in front of a screen.
Simply living near parks and wooded areas has been shown to lead to decreased levels of anxiety and depression and several studies have demonstrated that patients in hospital rooms with views of nature require less pain medication and heal faster than patients in rooms without views of nature.
Walking outside at a natural gait has been shown to significantly enhance creativity. Individuals who walked outside were shown to present not only more ideas, but ideas that demonstrated an increase in novelty.
Nature walks have also been linked to significantly lower levels of depression, less perceived stress and enhanced mental health and well-being.
Here's a short video that hits on most of this:
For most people, the option to get outside is accessible. It costs nothing and the benefits far outweigh any inconvenience. There are not many easier ways to improve your physical and mental health.