(CNN)As my wife, daughters and I hiked through the woods at one of the many state parks near our home, I explained to them how we were doing three things that were simultaneously boosting our happiness at that moment.
First, we were getting exercise, a proven mood booster. Second, we were spending quality time with loved ones, long associated with life happiness in surveys. And third, we were in nature. A hike in the woods is a trifecta of joy, and all it took was making this modest effort.
Our weekend hikes always put us in a better head space, even when its rainy or muddy, even when the kids get pooped, and even when they complain in advance of going. Once we are on the trail a switch is flipped. It is unfiltered adventure, discovery, connection and beauty. We are demonstratively happier.
Research that is more scientific than my small experiment, backs up the mood I consistently recorded. My colleague Kristen Rogers did some exploring of her own and made discoveries about where the nature and happiness trails meet.
Much of the research on how engaging with nature impacts eco-friendly behaviors and happiness has been focused on adults. But in a study published Wednesday in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, researchers examined the impact of a group of children’s “connectedness to nature” on their sustainable behaviors and happiness.
This kinship with nature was defined by researchers as a “characteristic of human beings that refers to thinking and feeling emotionally connected with all the elements of the natural environment, with feeling happier as a consequence.”
In a classroom in a Mexican city, nearly 300 children between ages of 9 and 12 responded to a questionnaire that measured their link to nature, eco-friendly behaviors and happiness.
The researchers found children who felt connected to nature — feeling pleasure when seeing wildflowers and animals, hearing sounds of nature — engaged in altruism, or actions that helped other people. These children actively cared for the environment by recycling, reusing objects and saving water. They were also more likely to say they believed in equality among sexes, races and socioeconomic conditions. Finally, these children scored high on a happiness scale, too.
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