Building with terraces filled with plants

Biophilia, Explained

True or False:

People with houseplants have less breathing problems.

A plant at your desk increases job satisfaction.

Looking at images of the ocean for 2 minutes reduces stress.

According to multiple scientific studies, all of those are true, and it’s because of biophilia.

Biophilia is from a Greek phrase meaning “love of living things.” Biophilia is the concept that as humans on earth, we are all hardwired to have an emotional connection to nature. Like blinking when a raindrop hits our eyes or breathing deeper when we love a flower’s smell, biophilia is instinctual. We’re born feeling connected to nature and we are meant to feel awe and happiness when we see natural beauty like a desert cactus in bloom or a flock of birds creating shapes in the sky. Biophilia is why we love being outside in nature.

But what happens when we can’t go outside in nature—maybe because it’s too cold, or because our Zoom meetings don’t really work in a national park, or because we live in a city instead of inside a forest?

That’s also where biophilia can help, albeit in a slightly different context. In the architectural and interior design worlds, biophilia refers to a design practice that brings plant walls and other natural structures into man-made spaces like offices, apartment buildings, and libraries. Among the companies paying for biophilia in the workplace? Google, which is building a new “biophilic” office in New York City with a reported billion-dollar price tag.

The investment comes as Canadian studies show bringing plant life and natural light into the office boosts feelings of wellbeing by as much as 88%, and feeling 75% more connected to co-workers. A separate UK study found when plants and natural light are brought into the office, productivity and creativity goes up 15%. The University of Oregon even found that employees take less sick leave when surrounded by natural elements. (Though if you are feeling sick at work, go home, even if you love your conference room’s potted ferns!)

And if you can’t surround yourself with greenery at work, or while you work from home, there’s one more way to harness biophilia during a tough moment: Look at images from nature. A Dutch study found that viewing photos of a “green space” like a forest or valley can help lower levels of anxiety and stress, even after just 2 minutes. Then there’s “blue mind science,” a UK concept where scientists showed photos of lakes, rivers, and ponds to test subjects, and observed a notable increase in calmness.

Those working from home might even consider a quick shower when feeling stuck or brain-drained, since the sound and feel of water can improve mental clarity and creativity, along with the bonus of using a deep-conditioning mask during your lunch hour. (Hey, hair feels stress, too…)

Want to make biophilia a bigger part of your life? Follow us on Instagram for daily nature photos, and sign up for our newsletter to learn which plant is best for your space and personality…