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Book review: 'The Nature Fix' explains how nature helps us heal

Posted March 16

"THE NATURE FIX: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative," by Florence Williams, W.W. Norton & Co., $26.95, 304 pages (nf)

In her book, "The Nature Fix," Florence Williams examines research from the United States, Japan, South Korea, Finland, Scotland, Singapore and elsewhere that confirms the value of spending time in nature and natural surroundings. A journalist and contributing editor for Outside magazine, Williams’ book is well-written, insightful and thought-provoking.

In 2008, the world reached a pivot point when it became more urban than rural, according to the book. More than a milestone, more than a benchmark, this pivot point comes with its indicative pathology: U.S. and British children spend half of the time outdoors that their parents did and vast amounts of leisure time is spent looking at screens and not partaking of nature (26 minutes more each day if one uses an iPhone rather than Android). Also, post-traumatic stress disorder is on the rise and depression diagnoses are skyrocketing, as is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Williams takes readers on a worldwide romp explaining the concepts behind such things as the original kindergarten, forest therapy in Japan, artificial oases in congested Singapore and the healing (not necessarily curative) effects of Idaho river runs and getaways to the Utah desert. She reports research about the positive biometric, psychological and cognitive impacts of spending time in nature that are pouring in from around the world (bee stings, sunburns and poison ivy notwithstanding).

Refreshingly, Williams does not fall into the tired, cliche-ridden ease of telling readers that if they would just get off the couch or away from electronic screens and go for walk their negative health issues would flee. She also does not present time in nature as a ubiquitous cure, but instead shows how it can be an incremental aid in many instances. Backed by research, she reports on "Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative" (the book’s subtitle).

Rather than telling readers to quit cutting down trees, Williams encourages people to plant them. She extols urban planners who design a green canopy and then work to achieve it, even in some of the world’s most metropolitan areas. She reports psychological and health studies that contrast going for an urban walk and going for a nature walk.

The book has strong Utah connections. The work of academics from the University of Utah and Brigham Young University are cited. Southeastern Utah, Moab and Bluff figure prominently in the book.

"The Nature Fix" could certainly be beneficial for parents, educators, mental health professionals, psychologists, anthropologists, urban planners, human resource officers and the like.

Arguably the book speaks directly to family values such as spending time together in nature. It contains no sexual content. Social drinking is mentioned. Foul language is very rare but present and occasionally severe.

References to social ills occur, including references to suicide and rape, but they are relevant to the writing and generally referenced.

Steve Decker is the Cedar City public library director and a native of Parowan, Utah. He graduated from Emporia State University with a master’s of library science and Southern Utah University, where he is currently studying anthropology.

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