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Can More Bird Species Make Us as Happy as More Money?

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Proximity to biodiversity can increase life satisfaction as much as higher income, according to a a study published in December 2020 analyzing the 2012 European Quality of Life Survey.


Being near a greater number of bird species is correlated with increased happiness, according to a recent study shared on Science Daily by the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) that examined data from the 2012 European Quality of Life Survey. As summarized by Science Daily:

A high biodiversity in our vicinity is as important for life satisfaction as our income, scientists found. All across Europe, the individual enjoyment of life correlates with the number of surrounding bird species. An additional 10% of bird species therefore increases the Europeans’ life satisfaction as much as a comparable increase in income.


The study authors suggest that birds are easier to observe than other indicators of biodiversity, and are also tied surrounding natural elements. Also from Science Daily:

Birds are well-suited as indicators of biological diversity, since they are among the most visible elements of the animate nature — particularly in urban areas. Moreover, their song can often be heard even if the bird itself is not visible, and most birds are popular and people like to watch them. But there is also a second aspect that affects life satisfaction: the surroundings. A particularly high number of bird species can be found in areas with a high proportion of near-natural and diverse landscapes that hold numerous greenspaces and bodies of water.


Greater income improves two measures of happiness: both life satisfaction and emotional well-being, as we learned from a new Wharton study just a couple months back. We haven’t seen any news on a link between biodiversity and emotional well-being, but the link between avian diversity and life satisfaction is as strong (for Europeans) as the link between income and life satisfaction. According to study author Katrin Böhning-Gaese, director of the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, professor at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, and member of the iDiv:

“We also examined the socio-economic data of the people that were surveyed, and, much to our surprise, we found that avian diversity is as important for their life satisfaction as is their income.”


Both for lawyers specifically and humans in general, autonomy matters to our happiness more than any other factor. As we discussed in the context of Wharton’s new findings, a 2015 study answered the question “What Makes Lawyers Happy?” with the same answer that applies to humans in all careers, ranking autonomy at the top, with belonging and competence rounding out the top three. Wharton study author Matthew Killingsworth suggested that “having more money gives a person more choices and a greater sense of autonomy.”


Still, in addition to finding ways to enhance our senses of autonomy, it might be worthwhile for us to start seeking more time in nature — or just to notice and savor the experience while we’re there. A simple mindfulness strategy is to adapt the game “I Spy,” described in a previous post on mindfulness tips for parents in the profession: Look around you and name what you see, with brief detail (and what you’re feeling inside).


Related Resources:

Physiological Effects of Nature Therapy: A Review of the Research in Japan (International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2016)

How Nature Can Make you Kinder, Happier, and More Creative (Greater Good Magazine, 2016)

Frequent Visits to Nature Linked to Enhanced Psychological Well-Being and Reduced Mental Distress (PsyPost, 2021)

Self-Determination Theory: Basic Psychological Needs in Motivation, Development, and Wellness (Deci & Ryan, 2017)

Harvard Professor: Focusing on Time Instead of Money Can Make You Happier — Here’s How (Gili Malinsky, 2021)

Happiness Basics for Lawyers & Law Students: Positive Psychology, Values, and “Work-Life Balance” (LCL MA, January 2020)

Hard Times: Balancing Positive Psychology & Disaster Psychology in the Legal Profession (LCL MA, January 2021)

World Happiness Report 2020


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CATEGORIES: Balancing Work & Family | Well-Being
TAGS: happiness

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