In recent years, a number of wilderness therapy programs have cropped up to help people who suffer from mental health challenges. These trips often involve physically and emotionally engaging experiences—like backpacking or rock-climbing in remote areas—combined with therapeutic work from caring professionals. Something about being engaged in nature seems to help hard-to-treat patients open up, find new confidence, and focus their lives in more positive directions.
Psychologists who conduct these programs believe there is healing power in nature, bolstered by research that suggests green spaces are good for our health, our well-being, and even our relationships. But what is the secret ingredient in nature that brings about these benefits?
A recent study, led by researcher Craig Anderson and his colleagues (including the Greater Good Science Center’s faculty director, Dacher Keltner), suggests it could be awe—that sense of being in the presence of something greater than ourselves that fills us with wonder.
Participants in the first phase of the study were military veterans and underserved youth who went on either a one-day or four-day…