Girl Planting seeds

Earth Day 2014: Connecting With Nature

The first “official” Earth Day in the U.S. was held on April 22, 1970. The event was one of the signposts of a new environmentalist movement, and we now mark it every April as a reminder to take good care of our Earth. Yes, we should remember this each and every day, but it’s good to have a special time to be mindful of this mission.


The idea of celebrating the Earth is ancient. Native Americans have always considered the care of nature a basic element of their worldview. “We are the Earth and the Earth is us,” they say. We are not separate from nature, from the land and water, from the birds and beasts. How we live our lives impacts our planet and thus affects our lives.  This circular concept is so important to my health philosophy that the first object you will see entering our Whole Child Center is a framed Native American medicine wheel, a mirror of the cyclic nature of life and our relationship to the Earth.


Our interconnectedness to nature is something I teach children in schools when I give Earth Day presentations. I demonstrate for kids the healing power of nature, describing how the Native Americans’ first medicines were the plants that grew around them. Their lives literally depended on cultivating the flowers and trees with which they co-inhabited the Earth. I bring an assortment of herbs like chamomile, lavender, and peppermint, and we talk about how people have relied on these magical cures for as long as we can remember. The kids love to smell and touch the herbs and many, for the first time, viscerally realize how important nature is to our well being. They are so happy to discover this truth that they laugh out loud while exploring the herbs and spices. My hope is that this experience motivates them to take better care of the Earth.


Is it possible that something as simple as happiness could be the motivating factor to stimulate sustained ecological behavioral change? The developing field of ecopsychology has spurred an interest in research looking at how our connection to nature is tied to our well being.  Along these lines, John Zelenski and Elizabeth Nisbet from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada recently published a fascinating study, “Happiness and Feeling Connected: The Distinct Role of Nature Relatedness.”  The authors found that we have unique relationship with nature that is a “significant distinct predictor of many happiness indicators, even after controlling for other connections” and conclude that “nature relatedness could be a path to human happiness and environmental sustainability.” 


Professor Paul Bloom at Yale, in a 2009 New York Times Magazine piece, argues that we can leverage this naturophilia to nurture environmental stewardship. If rising rates of environmentally linked illnesses like asthma and autism or scientific predictions of wide ranging health impacts of climate change are not direct enough to stimulate eco-action, Bloom offers a compelling and deceptively simple argument for perhaps the most immediate reason why we should want to preserve our habitat: being in nature makes us happy.


“Put aside for the moment practical considerations like the need for clean air and water, and ignore as well spiritual worries about the sanctity of Mother Earth or religious claims that we are the stewards of creation. Look at it from the coldblooded standpoint of the enhancement of the happiness of our everyday lives. Real natural habitats provide significant sources of pleasure for modern humans. We intuitively grasp this, and this knowledge underlies the anxiety that we feel about nature’s loss. It might be that one day we will be able to replace the experience of nature with “Star Trek” holodecks and robotic animals. But until then, this basic fact about human pleasure is an excellent argument for keeping the real thing.”

Lawrence Rosen, MD is an integrative pediatrician and co-author of Treatment Alternatives for Children, an evidence-based guide for parents interested in natural solutions for common childhood ailments. He is the founder of one of the country’s first “green” pediatric practices, The Whole Child Center, in Oradell, NJ, and serves as Medical Advisor to the Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center at HackensackUMC. Dr. Rosen is a founding member and Past Chair of the AAP Section on Integrative Medicine and is appointed as Clinical Assistant Professor in Pediatrics at UMDNJ. A graduate of New York Medical College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he completed his residency and chief residency in pediatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. Dr. Rosen has been featured on Good Morning America, CNN, and Imus in the Morning, and he is a frequently cited expert on children’s and environmental health matters. He is a contributing editor and pediatric columnist for Kiwi Magazine, as well as a contributing author/editor for several books, including Integrative Pediatrics, Green Baby, and Pediatric Clinics of North America: Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Dr. Rosen serves on many integrative health advisory boards, including the Holistic Moms Network, Teleosis Institute, and Integrative Healthcare Symposium, Integrative Touch for Kids, PedCAM, Kula for Karma, and MarbleJam Kids.








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