Sustainability & Psychology : The importance of nature in our lives

Professor Saulo's active meditation

When one of our advisory board members, Saulo Barbosa, facilitated his first session with MAD Courses, he led with an exercise that involved a good amount of visualization. Setting up the Social Entrepreneurship program at EM Lyon University in France, Saulo said he always starts the course with this exercise that has students traveling back to a moment in time when they felt happy and healthy.

Try for a while, yourself, to imagine this moment.

What do you see?

Who is with you?

What are you doing?

In the ten or so years that Saulo has facilitated this exercise to hundreds (maybe thousands) of students, a couple of important things have remained consistent.

1) Saulo makes sure that he uses the descriptors happy and healthy as key prompts for the exercise and

2) In almost every single moment his hundreds (or thousands) of students have visualized, each moment has always had an element of nature and of personal relationships.

Relaxing at the beach with friends Gardening with family

Reading a book under a tree Hiking a mountain with a loved one

While it may not really be surprising that these are the kinds of moments that come to mind, it is remarkable that our need for nature and for meaningful relationships are so integral that we immediately associate them with key factors for sustaining human life - health and happiness. Saulo uses this shared realization among his students to highlight the importance of our personal health and happiness in our shared journey in sustainability.

“Sustainability” over the years has become one of those words that have been used so often across multiple industries that it has, in one way or another, started to shed its meaning. Small businesses use it to differentiate themselves, big corporations use it to keep their brand current. It’s a word that plenty of people around the world know but haven’t necessarily formed a connection with.

Saulo’s reflective exercise allows us to circle back to sustainability as something personal, intrinsic, and deeply-rooted.

“Sustainability is not something big and out there, it’s not a moral obligation. Sustainability is something within you, something you yourself pull energy from” he explains. “Deep inside, we all know that in order to be happy and healthy, we need nature and we need personal relationships.”

And what is sustainability anyway but the happiness and health of an ecosystem; of the world? Can we really, truly know how to take care of bigger communities when we neglect to take care of ourselves? Saulo’s exercise is an invitation — to examine how we are sustaining ourselves so that we have the capacity to work and sustain others; to bring awareness to the core needs of being human. If the best way to tend to ourselves is to relish in nature and personal connections, why would we allow these vital things to go to waste?

This is an especially crucial insight at a time in our lives when our access to both nature and personal connection is most tested.

I asked Saulo “knowing what we know now about our personal sense of happiness and health, how can we sustain ourselves in a time when most of us are stuck at home?” Saulo offers up some helpful tips:



1. "Bring nature to you"

Have any kind of contact with nature, be it indoor plants, growing seeds, or if you’re lucky enough to have space, gardening. If you live in a country where outdoor activities are allowed and green spaces are accessible, spend some time in the park or go for a walk.



2. “Use your hands more often.”

The caveat? Outside of using it on your phone or computer. We have become so dependent on our gadgets for our daily tasks that we barely use our hands for anything other than writing out emails and typing on documents. Take up an offline hobby, learn a craft, play an instrument again. Remember that a relationship with yourself is also a personal connection you need to cultivate and tend to.



3. “Work hard to keep social relationships alive and thriving.”

This a very trying time to keep the connection between you and your loved ones alive. It is important, now more than ever, to keep these connections strong. Seek out conversations with the people in your life - be it on or offline. Keep a safe space for your close family and friends. Work through the regulations, if you can, to maintain these relationships; even if it means having to keep socially distant and wearing a mask throughout a 2-hour outdoor meet-up.


Hopefully, when this pandemic is over, we remember through the trials the key things that make us happy and healthy. Hopefully, then, we will work even harder to keep nature and connection alive.


Saulo Barbosa is an esteemed professor of entrepreneurship at EM Lyon University in France and a founder of a social enterprise in his native country Brazil. He contributes his expertise in new venture creation and his passion for social innovation to our programs at MAD Courses.


We thank him for his time in sharing these wonderful insights on sustainability and the human experience.


What does sustainability mean to you?

Let us know your thoughts!

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