A majority of Americans live in urban environments and have little connection to the land. Richard Louve has labeled this disconnect between people and the natural world nature-deficit disorder. Even though many modern people have little experience with natural environments, human beings have a natural affinity for nature. For millions of years, Homo sapiens lived intimately with nature and have been shaped by the environment. The biophilia hypothesis states that human beings subconsciously seek connections with nature and other living organisms (Wilson & Kellert 1993). Admittedly, many people fear nature, but lack of connection to nature makes it an unknown and people do fear the unknown. People also fear discomfort and lack of control. Yet, many modern humans instinctually seek to commune with nature such as hunters, fishermen, campers, backpackers, ranchers, farmers, gardeners and outdoor adventure enthusiasts.
Connectedness to nature has an effect on human beings’ physical health and psychological resilience. There is a plethora of literature in the areas of wilderness therapy and ecopsychology that provides evidence that being in natural environments contributes to peoples’ health, well-being and personal growth. The is also a growing amount of research into the benefits of the outdoors for childhood development. Some studies have even shown that children with ADD are better able to concentrate after time spent playing in a green space.
Disconnect from nature and each other has had an effect on modern life. Our culture promotes materialist values in which prominent community members have material wealth and influence. Some people in our society live unfulfilled lives believing that material wealth will bring them happiness. Working to acquire goods often precludes time for family and leisure reducing quality of life and isolating people from support networks and diverse social relationships. There is a longing and emptiness that cannot be filled by external things and regardless of socioeconomic status, many people remain restless, dissatisfied and depressed. The unnatural, unbalanced egocentric mode of existence spawns a variety of cultural pathologies and dysfunctions. Our society is rife with violence, gambling, depression and substance abuse, even hoarding, because the norms of modern society are focused on accumulating possessions rather than quality of life. Similarly to backpackers, hunter-gatherers had to be able to carry their belongings and they tended to possess mostly necessities. Authentic experience has been replaced with collecting unnecessary things that consume resources on a massive scale. Amassing possessions does not lead to sustainable happiness and is an unsustainable lifestyle in the long-term. There are inner human needs that cannot be met by external things. Instead of accumulating material goods, people should be gathering experiences and building relationships that lead to true joy and happiness.
In 2009, Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan released a documentary series called: The National Parks: United States’ Best Idea. A common theme that ran throughout the series is the idea that returning to nature is going home and that wilderness is a necessity. As this documentary series recounts the history of the national parks, the narrative consistently returns to the idea that nature is restorative; people need a place to escape from urban life, nature offers authenticity, human identity is tied to nature, nature is sacred and offers an experiential spiritual awakening. Metaphors such as cathedral, church or sanctuary are constantly used to convey the effect of the beauty of rock formations, canyons, valleys, mountains, waterfalls, giant sequoia trees and other elements of our natural treasures. The inspiring beauty, the aesthetic of nature’s wonders, reconnects people to the sacred and helps humans remember the roots of our identity. Nature is our original home and we have forgotten our origins.