Recently, we completed a backyard renovation, ditching a dying hedge and sad, brown lawn and replacing them with a patio surrounded by a luscious array of flowering shrubs, vines, and trees.
It’s not only a peaceful mecca for me, but the birds are enthralled. Nesting house finches, cooing mourning doves, and electric, iridescent hummingbirds flock to my yard. While I’ve never been into birding before, I now find them completely captivating.
It turns out there are good reasons that a little bird (or three) goes a long way: they’re naturally adept at uplifting your mood and health.
You probably know that nature makes us happy — after all, countless scientific studies show how it supports a healthier brain and body. In fact, researchers from the University of Tokyo have recently identified more than 227 “non-material pathways” to greater well-being from interacting with nature, including spiritual fulfillment, personal development, exercise, relaxation, and recreation.
And here’s an important distinction about the word “nature”: ambitious outdoor activities aren’t the only way to experience it. In one study, researchers found that ideas about what nature is (and isn’t) may be why many adults feel disconnected from the natural world.
Adults in our research tended to view nature as wild, uncultivated, and set apart from human influences. Viewing and experiencing what respondents considered to be “authentic” nature required, in their minds, significant commitments of time and resources.
When I mentioned my backyard, you might have imagined me lounging there all day. But I’m mostly inside with the doors and windows open, so the healing power of nature can easily flit in.
Bird by Bird
A couple of new studies show that simply seeing or hearing birds can boost your mental health. As one of the studies’ authors, Emil Stobbe, points out:
The special thing about birdsongs is that even if people live in very urban environments and do not have a lot of contact with nature, they link the songs of birds to vital and intact natural environments.
More research shows that even listening to bird songs on headphones can reduce stress and anxiety by supporting “soft fascination,” where your attention is held as your mental fatigue is alleviated. And something as simple as looking up at a passing flock or pausing to listen to a chirping feathered friend can reduce stress-inducing cortisol and blood pressure and increase joyful feelings.
So, fight the urge to shut the window the next time a rambunctious bird is chattering up a storm. Otherwise, you’ll let an excellent opportunity to enjoy the benefits of present-moment awareness fly by.
Why birds and their songs are good for our mental health (Washington Post free article)