A new study jointly led by academics from the Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) in the UK has confirmed what many of us already suspected – spending time outdoors and switching off our devices is associated with higher levels of happiness during a period of Covid-19 restrictions.
Previous studies have indicated how being outdoors, particularly in green spaces, can improve mental health by promoting a more positive body image and lowering levels of depression and anxiety.
Researchers from ARU, the Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences in Austria, and Perdana University in Malaysia, examined how levels of happiness during a national lockdown were affected by being outdoors, the amount of daily screen time (use of TV, computer and smartphone) and feelings of loneliness.
Researchers closely monitored almost 300 adults
Using an experience sampling method, the researchers measured levels of happiness amongst a group of 286 adults three times a day, at random intervals, over a 21-day period. This allowed the participants to provide data in real-time rather than retrospectively, helping to avoid recall biases.
The research, recently published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, was carried out in April 2020, when the Austrian participants were allowed to leave their homes only for specific activities, which included exercise.
It found that levels of happiness were higher when participants were outdoors rather than indoors. In addition, more daily screen time and higher levels of loneliness were both associated with lower levels of happiness. The impact of loneliness on happiness was also weaker when participants were outdoors.
“While lockdowns can help slow down the transmission of Covid-19, research has also shown that prolonged periods of lockdown take their toll on mental health,” said co-lead author, Viren Swami, who is Professor of Social Psychology at ARU.
Being outdoors benefits psychological wellbeing
“Our results are important in this context because they show that being able to spend time outdoors under conditions of lockdown has a beneficial impact on psychological wellbeing. Being outdoors provides opportunities to escape from the stresses of being confined at home, maintain social relationships with others, and engage in physical activity – all of which can improve mental health.”
Swami said the findings have practical health policy implications. Given that further lockdown restrictions have now become necessary in the UK, public health messages that promote getting some fresh air instead of staying indoors and staring at screens could help to lift people’s mood this Northern Hemisphere winter.