Watching a furry sloth swim makes you happier and less stressed, study finds

Watching a furry sloth swim makes you happier and less stressed, study finds
PHOTO: BBC Earth

It's hump day and we all know what that means - it's the toughest day of the week and the weekend is too far away!

The stress that most people feel in the middle of the work week is a good reason why Wednesdays are the best days to watch videos of furry creatures splashing around in the water, looking for their destined lovers.

You see, watching animals going about their daily lives in their natural habitats can actually be good for your mental health.

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A new study by the University of California, Berkeley and the BBC Worldwide Global Insight Team has found that watching natural history content, for even just a few minutes, can increase your feelings of happiness and reduce stress.

The research was based on the emotions and stress levels of 7,500 respondents from the US, UK, Singapore, India, Australia and South Africa.

Participants were randomly assigned one of five clips - either a scene from Planet Earth II, a collection of news stories from US television networks, a scene from a major drama series, or, as a control, an excerpt from an instructional DIY video.

They were then asked to answer questions that chart their emotions and stress levels before and after watching one of five clips. Using webcams, facial mapping was also done to analyse changes in their facial expressions, and to map their 'micro facial expressions' to quantify the extent that they felt emotions such as happiness, surprise, puzzlement, fear, anger and rejection.

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The results showed that those who watched footage from BBC's Planet Earth II resulted in significant increases in feelings of awe, contentedness, joy, amusement and curiosity as well as a reduction in feelings of tiredness, anger and stress. Facial mapping data also revealed high levels of 'happy' on the faces of those watching natural history clips.

Participants in the 16-24 age group were also more likely to experience significant positive emotions when shown natural history content.

According to Professor Dacher Keltner, the shifts in emotion demonstrated are significant as wonder and contentment are the foundations of human happiness.

"If people experience feelings of awe, they are more likely to display empathetic and charitable behaviours and have been shown to be better able to handle stress," he adds.

BBC said in its official blog that many studies have found that nature viewing promotes the sense of awe, which in turn promotes well-being and altruism to creating a sense of humility. Another study cited by the broadcaster also showed immersion in nature helped to reduce physical stress response resulting in lower levels of fear and anxiety.

So if you're feeling stressed today, you know what to do - go watch a video of animals frolicking in the wild!

ljessica@sph.com.sg

 

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