Biophilia - what is it and why should we take notice?

Biophilia means a love of life or living things - the word originates from the Greek, ‘bio’ meaning ‘life’, and ‘philia’ meaning ‘love of’. 


First used in 1964 by psychologist Erich Fromm, biophilia was used to describe “the passionate love of life and all that is alive”, whilst the concept became more recognised in 1984 after biologist Edward O Wilson proposed the Biophilia Hypothesis that all humans are inherently affiliated to other forms of life. Since then researchers have shown that we have an innate need to be in contact with nature and that we are genetically predisposed to be attracted to the natural world, which has ultimately aided our development as a species - such as locating foods and lands and nurturing life. 

Interestingly, the study of biophobia (the fear of nature) has given some of the most significant insights into the human-nature connection, such as the evolutionary physiological reactions to snakes, the cautiousness to foreign foods and unknown wild plants, or the commonly shared unease of thunderstorms. Such fear responses and the continual surveillance of the environment have enabled the survival of humankind. 

The explosion of people seeking nature connection during the COVID pandemic lockdowns was a great example of biophilia in action. As are children playing in the outdoors, regardless of weather or reason, unashamedly getting muddy to find that particular stick or bug, or full-heartedly jumping in puddles for the sheer joy of it. So why do most people ‘grow out’ of this? And why have so many who reaped the benefits of being in nature during the lockdown now reduced their biophilic behaviour (and quite likely through no fault of their own)? 

In recent history, there has been a separation between humans and the natural world - which runs almost in parallel with industrial and technological developments - and has changed most interactions with nature, such as the use and domination of natural resources and where modern humans are detached from the elements and threats due to cars, houses, clothes, workplaces etc. It has also been argued that this loss of interrelatedness and interaction has contributed to the loss of habitats, reduced biodiversity and extinction of other species because there is a lack of appreciation and understanding.

Biophilia is not only recognised by the scientific and healthcare communities but also by designers and architects as studies show the positive benefits of human interactions with nature. Positive benefits can include reduced stress and anxiety levels, improved physiological health including lower blood pressure, increased focus and productivity, greater creativity, better sleep, longevity, higher pain threshold, and more effective recovery following illnesses and surgery. 

So how can we increase biophilia in our lives? By creating habitual, purposeful interactions with nature, we can improve and increase our connection with the natural world - something that many of us do already (remember, it’s innate and we actively seek it even without realising it)! Some suggestions include:

  • Walk in your local park, green space, woodland, or beach - we’ve become sedentary beings, so taking a walk is not only a great reason to move our bodies, but being in a green or blue space helps to calm, lower cortisol levels, and increase our opportunity of accessing cleaner fresh air.

  • Natural daylight and darkness - we can learn from nature and wildlife with responses to varying light levels throughout the days, weeks and seasons. Being more in tune with this can help sleep cycles, and improve conditions such as SAD (seasonal deficit disorder) and depression

  • Get some houseplants - not only do indoor plants green up work and living spaces, they can also act as air purifiers and filters removing chemicals and toxins that can be harmful.

  • Feed and watch the garden birds (or if you can’t do this, research has shown watching wildlife webcams/looking at nature pictures can have similar effects) - this can relax and improve concentration by shifting the focus, and it also increases appreciation as we notice and care for other living beings. 

  • Take your shoes (and socks!) off - walking barefoot, or standing outside on natural ground if unsure, has a multitude of proven health benefits including reduced inflammation, better sleep, lowered anxieties, improved immune system, and even improved eyesight. 

Whatever you might feel about the concept of biophilia, research has shown that spending time in nature is beneficial for overall wellbeing - just two hours per week interacting with nature can improve health (compared to those who spent less time outdoors). Through simple actions, increasing your biophilic behaviour will improve both your mental and physical health, which is easier than you might think thanks to humans' innate connection to nature.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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St. Austell PL26 & Bodmin PL30
Written by Ysella Wood, Member of BACP ~ Dip.Couns ~ Golowhe Therapy
St. Austell PL26 & Bodmin PL30

Ysella (also known as Izzey) is a counsellor and ecotherapist located in mid-Cornwall. She has a private practice called Golowhe Therapy working with individuals (young people, teens, adults) and groups, and offers the use of nature and the outdoors to support the therapeutic relationship, such as through ecotherapy and ‘walk and talk’ sessions.

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