Biophilia: Our Innate Love of Other Living Things

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ENVIRONMENTAL WELLNESS – Go green! Include nature in your life, get a pet, plant a garden, visit local parks and walking trails, and make sure that the indoor environment you live and work in is healthy.

His big brown eyes are enough to melt the coldest heart. His trust is that of a child who looks to me for guidance and structure in his life. His name is Duke, a yellow lab who captured my heart the first day I brought him home nearly nine years ago.

I never thought of a pet as falling into the environmental wellness dimension until I learned a new word on one of my social networks today: biophilia – man’s innate love of other living things or living systems. The word was first used by Erich Fromm to “describe man’s psychological orientation of being attracted to all that is alive and vital.” Most of us have heard of phobias: the aversions and fears that people have of things in the natural world. Philias, then, can be seen as the antonym, or opposite, of a phobia; bio meaning natural, environmental.

When thinking of the word “environmental,” I realize now that I have had a somewhat restricted view of its meaning. If someone were to ask me what thought first pops into my mind when I hear the word environmental, it would be nature. Nature, to me then, logically leads me to think next of outdoors. Environmental wellness, then, means taking part in an activity outdoors or just spending time outdoors. That’s about as deeply as I used to think about environmental wellness. But it is so much more than that.

This mindset isn’t unusual. Many people think of nature when envisioning environmental wellness. But the weather and animals also fit in the “nature” category being typically outdoor-related, natural things. Notice how we naturally bring pieces of the outdoors inside of our homes through plants, aquariums, cages with birds and, yes, other free roaming pets. (The weather can stay outside with its wide degree of variables.)

Whether we realize it or not, we subconsciously seek connections with the rest of life that is not human in nature. This is the reason having a pet falls into the environmental wellness dimension. One could argue, and rightly so, that having a pet falls into the physical, emotional or even social dimensions of wellness. People develop nurturing two-way relationships with their pets. Results have been shown that people’s blood pressure falls when simply petting an animal. Taking your pet for a walk also delivers the exercise you need.

Service animals are remarkable and have far superior developed senses than humans that baffle most of us: from detecting cancer, low blood sugar which could cause someone to faint, the impending onset of a seizure, etc. Even though we see ourselves as humans to be superior to our animal friends, these pets are more perceptive through their senses than we could ever hope to be.

It’s a new concept for many of us to consider our pets a piece of this “natural” dimension. Now we know that pets are part of the environmental wellness we all need to balance our lives in healthy ways and become refined by age.™

8 Comments

  1. Well done, Kathy. I’m so glad my comment introduced you to biophilia and inspired this wonderful post. I hope we can work together to get others thinking about all the millions of ways we can get more nature into our lives–whether it be through a new plant, adopting a pet, or even urban-oriented outdoor exercise programs like mine! I have mostly boomers and seniors in my classes and they are very vocal about how being outdoors improves their lives. And it’s something all generations can enjoy together!

    • There is nothing more beautiful than nature. It’s no wonder we humans love it. It can be mild and calming, yet exhilarating and challenging. It is a powerful force in our lives and one that I certainly will contemplate more. Thanks for the work you are doing to get people outdoors. No doubt, many of them would sit in their homes and apartments without the opportunity you present them with.

  2. ctownsendwinter

    This rings so true with me and I talk quite a lot about it in my book and now I have a term for it!! Thank you.

  3. If you’d like to read more about it, “Biophilia” is a book by E.O. Wilson. More recent books about the importance of nature in our lives are “The nature Prescription” by Richard Louv, and “Your Mind on Nature” by Eva Selub.

    • ctownsendwinter

      Thank you so much!

  4. Let me correct the names and authors of two of those books (sorry for the inconvenience). One is “The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age” by Richard Louv. The other is “Your Brain on Nature: The Science of Nature’s Influence on Your Health and Happiness” by Eva Selhub.

  5. lisafederico

    Thank you for a great blog … from a CSA student and the human half of a K9 Therapy Team!
    (XO and woof from my dog, Yoshi.)

  6. Thank you, Lisa. Good luck with your CSA training and exam. Pet Yoshi for me and give him a big hug!

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