Watching Nature Documentaries Makes Us Ridiculously Happy

One of the many laugh-out-loud moments from Planet Earth II that launched a thousand memes. (C) BBC

A collaborative study between the BBC, makers of Planet Earth II, and the University of California Berkeley has found that watching nature documentaries significantly boosts our happiness and reduces stress and anxiety.

Now anyone who has seen the nail-biting sequence known simply as “Baby iguanas v snakes” will be disagreeing rather emphatically right now. We too are still recovering from that particular heart-stopping drama. But hear us out.

Commissioned to mark the launch of Planet Earth II in the US, the study was conducted by BBC Worldwide’s in-house researchers and Professor Dacher Keltner, an emotions expert and professor of psychology at UC Berkeley.

In a global project, the researchers used cutting-edge facial mapping technology on 7,500 participants from a broad range of nationalities – including the US, UK, Singapore, India, South Africa, and Australia – to read their emotions in real time as they watched short clips of a range of television programs, including the news, dramas, and, of course, Planet Earth II


The results showed that women experienced a more dramatic emotional change when viewing the nature documentary clips, and people between the ages of 16 to 24 showed the biggest reduction in nervousness, overburden, and fatigue. But, overall, the majority experienced significant increases in positive emotions including awe, joy, curiosity, contentment, enthusiasm, and amusement. The study also found a substantial decrease in emotions such as nervousness, anxiety, fear, stress, and tiredness.

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