6 Aug 2015

How Nature is Good for our Well-being

From Our Changing World, 9:46 pm on 6 August 2015

By Alison Ballance

What makes us happy? Environmental scientist Lin Roberts and colleagues argue in a new report that nature is a key factor in our happiness, and that ecosystem services delivered by indigenous biodiversity and natural ecosystems contribute in a wide variety of ways to the wellbeing of New Zealand and New Zealanders.

View across beech forest to mountain tops - the Arthur Range in Kahurangi National Park

The Arthur Range in Kahurangi National Park Photo: RNZ / Alison Ballance

“The ecosystem services idea was developed as a way to communicate to people what we get from nature, and how dependant we are on it. Because many of us living in cities forget how much we use and rely on nature to provide us things like air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat. [They] also provide all sorts of other benefits like flood protection, water and air purification, pollination.”
Lin Roberts, Lincoln University

The explosion of research into wellbeing has come about because, Lin says there is a “recognition that our economic wellbeing has been increasing steadily, GDP has been growing, incomes have been growing – but people are not getting any happier in developed countries.”

A lichen on the forest floor

Nature underpins happiness and wellbeing, according to a new report. Photo: RNZ / Alison Ballance

The report was commissioned by the Department of Conservation and is called ‘The nature of wellbeing: how nature’s ecosystem services contribute to the wellbeing of New Zealand and New Zealanders’. It uses a framework developed by Chilean Max-Neef who recognised that all people have the same basic nine needs, which he called satisfiers: subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, creativity, identity, freedom and leisure. Lin says that different people satisfy these needs in different ways and it is not necessarily through consumer goods.

“Our need for affection will usually be satisfied through close relationships with other people. Or our need for leisure could be just spending time reading a book, lying in the sand.”

Lin says the report aims to encourage people to think about how they’re living, and how it impacts both on themselves and on the planet.

“Thinking more about how we satisfy our needs and what are the best types of satisfiers gives you an opening to explore some of the ways we might satisfy our needs without actually getting much wellbeing return and at the same time damaging the systems we rely on.”

To quote the report, ‘if we can become better at identifying and choosing high-happiness-return/low-impact consumption over high-impact/low-happiness-return consumption, we will not only improve our own wellbeing and that of supporting ecosystems, but will also enhance the opportunity for our grandchildren and others on the planet to meet their basic needs and enjoy “the good life”.’

The Valuing Nature conference, held in Wellington in 2013, discussed ecosystem services and the links between economy and the environment. Lin Roberts was one of the panellists, and Pavan Sukdevh presented a talk on TEEB, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity.

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