Self Assessments of Happiness Before and After Hiking in Monteverde, Costa Rica Janeanne Levenstein Abstract Conservation of the environment and natural systems is important for many reasons and motivations for conservation efforts can come from myriad perspectives. Following E.O. WilsonÂ€s 1984 concept of biophilia, this study seeks to explore the effects of na ture on human happiness with the hope of providing evidence that environmental conservation is important for human well being. Surveying entrants to the Curi Cancha Reserve in Monteverde, Costa Rica, and using a self case study, I find a positive relations hip between hiking and level of happiness. Resumen Conservacin del medio ambiente y los sistemas naturales es importante por muchas razones y motivaciones porque los esfuerzos de la conservacin pueden venir desde perspectivas mltiples. Siguiendo el co ncepto de biophilia de E.O. Wilson 1984, este estudio bu sca explorar los efectos de la naturaleza sobre la felicidad humana con la esperanza de proporcionar evidencia de que la conservacin del medio ambiente es importante para el bienestar humano. Usando una encuesta de los turistas de la Reserva Curi Cancha en Monteverde, Costa Rica, y un estudio de caso de m mismo, yo enconctr una relacin positiva entre el camina r en el bosque y el de la felicidad. Introduction We live in a world that places economic values on just about everything. In the environmental context, this can be helpful for a numb er of reasons Â it can bring awareness of the importance of the environment in non inherently environmental facets of life and it can sometimes provide a n economic justification for protecting ecosystems Myers 1996; Costanza et al 1997. Some, such as McCauley 2006 however, are hesitant to superimpose the environment and nature onto our inherently human economic systems, emphasizing instead the environ mentÂ€s intrinsic value. Additionally, there is an emerging body of research on the importance of the environment for human well being see Russell et al. 2013 for an overview of existing studies. Wilderness therapy provides an interesting juxtaposition of the intrinsic yet still anthropocentric and economi c values of nature as it proposes that immersion in nature can
help placate mental and physical ailments, which ultimately have economic implications Maller et al 2006. Wilderness therapy is closely linked with E.O. WilsonÂ€s 1984 concept of biophilia Wilson contends that humans have a genetic disposition toward nature. This suggest s that we can derive positive physical and mental health benefits fr om presence in natural setting s and circles back again to the idea that the environment is a valuable resource worthy of conservation. Following this line of thought, I explore the mental health effects of natural settings, specifically hiking in the forests of Costa Rica. My research focuses on self ass essments of happiness before and after hiking with the prediction that people will report higher levels of happiness after going on a hike. Materials and Methods My research approach was two pronged. I administered a survey available in both Spanish and English to the patrons of the Curi Cancha Reserve in Monteverde, Costa Rica s ee Appendix I The sur vey asked respondents their sex; age; country of origin; rea son for coming to the reserve, with the options of 1 to see birds/animals, 2 hike/walk, 3 exercise, 4 learn about the ecosystem, 5 experience nature, 6 spend time with other people; they were also given the option to fill in 7 another reason if it was not already listed ; if they walked with a guide; how man y other people they walked with; a nd how much time they spent in the reserve. Most importantly, the survey asked respondents to rate their happiness on a 1 5 scale 1 being extremely unhappy, and 5 being extremely happy both before and after they walked. I administered the survey to 20 pe ople entering Curi Cancha one morning, waited for them to return from their walk to fill out the after portion of the survey, and got f ull results back from 15 of respondents
In addition to the survey, I also performed a month long self case study. At the beginning of my r esearch period, I designated five time slots where I would go for a hike regardless of other obligations I might have had and regardless of whether or not at the time of the hike I actually had any interest in hiking. I assessed my hap piness both before and after hiking using the same scale given on the survey. Additionally, I wrote a small blurb about my attitudes and feelings before and after hiking. Finally, I ran one tailed t tests for all of my data sets respondents from Curi Canc ha, self case study, and the combination of these to determine significance. Results I received fu ll survey responses from 15 of the 20 people I asked see Appendix II a The other five survey respondents did not finish their surveys upon return; tho se results were discarded. Of the remaining respondents, all but two were from the United States. The two who were not from the States were Costa Rican. Nine of the respondents were women and six were men. Three of the respondents were under 20, three betw een 20 and 29, one between 30 and 39, three between 40 and 49, four between 50 and 59, and one was over 60. Re asons for coming to the reserve varied through all of the options. Every respondent reported that they came to the reserve to see birds and animal s; all but two said they came to hike or walk ; six respondents came to exercise; nine came to learn about the local ecosystem; eight respondents came to spend time with others; and importantly, all but one respondent came to experience nature. All but two respondents the Costa Ricans walked with a guide in the park and everyone walked with at least two other people. Two people spent between 1 and 2 hours in the reserve, and everyone else spent 2 or more hours. Most importantly for this study were the happ iness levels of respondents
before and after walking; these results are shown in Figure 1 All of the respondents reported relatively high levels of happiness both before and after hiking. Figure 1 : Comparison of happiness before and after hiking based on 15 completed responses at the Curi Cancha Reserve, Monteverde, Costa Rica. Before hiking, no one reported happiness levels below 3; two people rated their happiness at a 3, eight people reported a 4 for their happiness; and the rest, five people, reported being extremely happy, or a 5, before hiking. The pre hiking happin ess levels averaged a 4.2 on the 1 5 scale. Po st hiking, all but one respondent reported their happiness as being at a 5. The one outlier reported their happiness at a 4. This averaged to 4.9 for happiness after hiking and was statistically significant t = 39.9524, df = 29, p value <0.001 A comparison of the average happiness before and after the hike is shown in Figure 2. Over the course of a month I collected data about my own level of happiness before and after hiking five times. Three of these hikes I rated my happiness before walking at a 3 and two of the hikes I rated it at a 4. My average pre hike happiness level was a 3. 4 on my 1 5 scale. After hiking, I rated my happiness at a 4 twice and the other three times I returned from my hikes at a 5. This made my post hike happiness average 4.6; this reflects a more than 20% increase in 0 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Happiness Respondents HAPPINESS BEFORE HAPPINESS AFTER
happiness. These data points are shown in A ppendix II b and according to the t test, are statistically significant t = 15.4919, df = 9, p value < 0.001 Additionally, on a more qualitative level, I recorded a short summary of my attitudes before and after hiking. In this reflection, I noted being antsy or feeling like hiking was not the best use of my time before almost every hike. Figure 2 : Average happiness before and after hiking Upon returning from my hikes, I did not ever record any l evels of anxiety and generally felt relaxed or content afterward. After every hike, my attitudes had shifted in a positive direction. Adding my data with the results from the 15 respondents from Curi Cancha, the ave rage pre hike happiness level becomes 3.8 and the average post hike becomes 4.8; maintaining that 20% inc rease in happiness after hiking and maintainin g their statistical significance t = 39.3022, df = 39, p value < 0.001. The combination of my self study data and the data of from Curi Cancha is shown in Figure 3. 0 1 2 3 4 5 Happiness Before After
Figure 3 : Comparison of aggregate happiness before and after hiking based on 15 completed responses at the Curi Cancha Reserve, and five self study responses, Monteverde, Costa Rica. Discussion Happiness is something that is extremely difficult to quantify; it is interpretive and subjective. Although there exist psychological tests that attempt to objectively define and rate participantsÂ€ happiness and/or well being, these tests can never reflect all of the complexity of human emotion. While I in no way claim that my simple 1 5 self assessment happiness scale is void of errors or bias or that it is better than the tests that try to objectively quantify happiness, it does have some advantages over these tests. By having particip ants assess their own happiness on their own terms my scale leaves the definition of happiness open to individual interpretation and avoids giving one size fits all criteria. Additionally, it avoids the Â‚ clinicalization Âƒ of happiness; allowing participant s to not over think whether or not they are actually happy. 0 1 2 3 4 5 Happiness Before After
Finally, because happiness is such a subjective matter, I think it is important to have participants self report their happiness as opposed to taking a test that will tell them their level of happ iness. Looking at the aggregate happiness levels before and after hiking for both the respondents from Curi Cancha and my own self study, there is a clear increase in happiness after hiking Although almost all pre hike happiness assessments were on the h igh end of the scale, and therefore a dramatic uptick in happiness is not expressed, a point by point analysis reveals that only two of the 20 responses showed no increase in happiness after hiking and none of the responses show a decrease in happiness. Th is means that 90% of participants experienced a positive increase in happiness after hiking. My sample size was too small to discern any pattern or relationship between happiness levels and any of the other independent variables. Although there are many uncontrolled variables at work here and I can therefore not conclusively determine hiking as the causation of respondentsÂ€ increases in happiness, my data is statistically significant and do suggest that there is a positive relatio nship between hiking which I believe can be extrapolated to represent immersion in nature in general and increases in happiness. Analysis of my journal entries, although much more qualitative, support this general conclusion. All of these journal entries reflect a positive shift in mood and attitude and a decrease in stress or anxiety after hiking My research supports the ideas espoused by E.O. Wilson 1984 and Maller et al. 2006. The positive relationship I found between hiking and increases in happ iness seem to indicate a close intrinsic relationship between human well being and exposure to nature. Longer term research with in more controlled settings can help confirm this. As McCauley 2006 suggests, research supporting the correlation between nat ure and positive benefits for humans can help provide a basis for environmental protection.
Acknowledgments I would like to thank Carlos Guindon for helping me focus on a project that would allow me to accom plish my goals for the semester and pursue my interests. I also would like to thank Mauricio at the Curi Cancha Reserve for being so accommodating and allowing me to conduct research at the Reserve. Finally, I would like to thank Madeleine Wojack for all of her statistical and emotional support. Lit erature Cited Costanza, Robert, Ralph dÂ€Arge, Rudolf de Groot, Stephen Farber, Monica Grasso, Bruce Hannon, Karin Limburg, Shahid Naeem, Robert V. OÂ€Neill, Jose Paruelo, Robert G. Raskin, Paul Sutton, and Marjan van den Belt. 1997. Â‚The Value of the WorldÂ€ s Ecosystem Services and Natural Capital.Âƒ Nature 387:253 260. Maller C, Townsend M, Pryor A, Brown P, St Leger L. 2006. Â‚Healthy Nature Healthy P eople: Â„ C ontact With N atureÂ€ As An Upstream Health Promotion Intervention for P opulations. Âƒ Health Prom. Int. 21:45 Â 54. McCauley, Douglas J. 2006. Â‚Selling Out On Nature.Âƒ Nature 443:27 28. Myers, Norman. 1996. Â‚Environmental Services of Biodiversity.Âƒ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 937:2764 2769. Russell, Roly, A nne D. Guerry, Patricia Balvanera, Rachelle K. Gould, Xavier Basurto, Kai M.A. Chan, Sarah Klain, Jordan Levine, and Jordan Tam. 2013. Â‚Humans and Nature: How Knowing and Experiencing Nature Affect Well Being.Âƒ Annual Review of Environmental Resources 38:4 73 502.
Wilson, E. O. 1984. Biophilia Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Appendix II a Curi Cancha Survey Responses RESPONDENT HAPPINESS BEFORE HAPPINESS AFTER SEX AGE COUNTRY OF ORIGIN REASON GUIDE OTHER PEOPLE TIME 1 4 5 F 20 29 USA 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 Y 5+ 3+ 2 4 5 F 20 29 USA 1, 2, 4, 5 Y 5+ 3+ 4 4 5 F 30 39 USA 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 Y 3 2 3 5 5 5 F 20 29 USA 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Y 2 3+ 6 5 5 M 50 59 USA 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 Y 2 3+ 7 5 5 M UNDER 20 USA 1 Y 3 2 3 8 4 5 F UNDER 20 USA 1, 2, 5 Y 4 2 3 9 4 5 F 40 49 USA 1, 2, 5, 6 Y 5+ 2 3 10 4 4 M 40 49 USA 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Y 3 2 3 11 3 5 M 50 59 USA 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 Y 3 3+ 12 4 5 F UNDER 20 USA 1, 2, 5 Y 3 2 3 13 4 5 F 50 59 USA 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 Y 3 3+ 14 5 5 M 60+ USA 1, 5 Y 3 3+ 15 5 5 M 40 49 CR 1, 2, 3, 4, N 4 1 2
b Self study Responses Hike Date 2014 HAPPINESS BEFORE HAPPINESS AFTER 19 Mar 4 4 20 Mar 3 5 24 Mar 3 4 28 Mar 4 5 31 Mar 3 5 Average: 3.4 4.6 5, 6 16 3 5 F 50 59 CR 1, 2, 5, 6 N 4 1 2 Average: 4.2 4.9