The Benefits of Natural Surroundings: why we need to buy more potted plants

Recently everyone’s been talking about new research, suggesting that plants in the office can increase productivity by 15%. The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Huffington Post all advise employers to invest in potted plants. How much can these plants really help us and why? 

 
Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo
 

What's this new research?

In a study which they claim to be the first of its kind, the researchers found that a ‘lean’ office with plants could increase productivity by 15%.

This research, from Cardiff University, showed that office plants significantly increased workplace satisfaction, perceived air quality and self-reported levels of concentration. 

This might seem like common sense to a lot of people but it is always exciting when new evidence confirms what we already think. In fact, this is by no means the first experiment that suggests we need more plants in our lives!  

A 2008 study in the US also had similar findings. Again, employees who worked in offices with plants had higher overall quality-of-life scores. Oddly, in this study, job satisfaction for men was much higher with plants in the office whilst for women there was no difference.

Ten years earlier, in 1998, another study had suggested plants may increase creativity and relaxation but not necessarily contribute to a setting that requires repetitive action with focused attention.

 
Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo
 

What else can plants do?

Actually, the benefits of plants, trees, and naturalized areas to individuals and society have been documented since the early 1980s.

According to the evidence, plants not only increase productivity and attentiveness but reduce stress and mental fatigue, lower blood pressure, and reduce the chances of illness.

Clearly, plants are not just something we should be bringing into the office!

In 2000, a study tested how long people were able to tolerate pain, by keeping subjects’ hands in ice water for up to five minutes. Those who had plants in the room were able to tolerate the pain considerably longer than those in the plant-free control room.

This is in line with an earlier study, in 1984, where hospital patients recovered more quickly from surgery when able to see plants from the window than those only able to see buildings. 

The effects of natural surroundings on wellbeing have been documented in a whole range of settings too. It might not come as a surprise to us that prisoners, who are among the most isolated from nature, had a lower rate of reporting to sick call when simply able to see natural surroundings through their cell window. 

So, if you spend a lot of time indoors, it might really be worth buying yourself a few house plants.

Miss out on windows, miss out on sleep

Ok, so you’ve filled your house and your office with some plants. Anything else?

Well yes, actually. There’s one more very important aspect of nature that we need if we spend our days inside: that's light.

As we noted in 7 Ways to Get a Good Night's Sleep, natural light is essential for good sleep. In other words, when it is actually light we should see the light, whereas at night it is better to turn off bright screens and lights, signalling to the brain it is time to sleep. Verifying this, researchers have recently shown that employees sleep an average of 46 minutes more per night if they have windows in their offices. 

Just having windows in the office means around 173% more exposure to beneficial white light. Furthermore, the employees exposed to more light were supposedly more likely to engage in physical activity, perhaps because of their improved mood.  

According to senior study author Phyllis Zee, M.D:

"There is increasing evidence that exposure to light, during the day, particularly in the morning, is beneficial to your health via its effects on mood, alertness and metabolism"  

 
Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo
 

Even fake nature is better than no nature!

In fact, it’s not just plants that can produce these effects but anything that mimics natural surroundings; sometimes it doesn’t have to be natural at all! 

German researchers found that when people glanced at the colour green for two seconds before carrying out a creative task, it enhanced their creative performance compared to briefly looking at other colours, including white, grey, red, and blue.

Why do natural surroundings affect us so much?

According to most of the studies, views of nature create more positive feelings of wellbeing than do non-natural views, and stimulate higher aesthetic responses. Some suggest that nature is essential in creating feelings of attachment to particular places.

Considering the fact that simply the colour green can have such a profound impact on wellbeing and performance, we are clearly wired to have a psychological response to natural surroundings.

No one can be sure of why this is, but it seems fair to point out that it is only relatively recently that we have shut ourselves away in houses, and even more recently that we have started spending our days in offices (not to mention in front of computers).

In terms of the presence of plants in our immediate environment, there is another reason why they help us. We often think that these indoor spaces are safer and cleaner, protecting us from germs. In fact, as the Total Exposure Assessment Methodology (TEAM) study has shown, our greatest personal exposure to pollutants is from indoor, not outdoor air.

Indoor pollutants include:

 
 

It is likely that one of the reasons why plants affect our sense of wellbeing is because of their ability to act as pollution absorbers. 

What plants should I buy to get rid of indoor pollutants?

In the 1980s NASA carried out a two-year study on house plants and their ability to absorb pollution. 

According to NASA, leafy green plants like philodendron, spider plant and the golden pothos are more effective in removing formaldehyde while flowering plants such as gerbera daisy and chrysanthemum are better for removing benzene from the atmosphere.

These were the top most effective house plants:

 
 

How are you hacking your happiness?

Do you keep house plants? Have you noticed an improvement in your mood when you spend time in a natural setting? Let us know what you do to get closer to nature! Leave a comment below or get in touch at hello@hacking-happiness.co. You can also subscribe to our newsletter here.

Happy hacking!