Is there anything better than watching a lioness tend to a litter of clumsy cubs, other than seeing a slew of spellbinding sea creatures or observing the mysterious mating rituals of birds of paradise?
The unsurprising answer, according to a new collaborative study between the BBC and the University of California Berkeley, is: not really, at least when it comes to improving your mental health.
Academic researchers and the makers of Planet Earth II have found that watching nature documentaries significantly increases our happiness levels and reduces stress and anxiety.
In the global study, researchers used facial mapping technology on 7,500 participants to track their emotions in real time as they watched short clips of various television programs, including news, dramas, and Planet Earth II.
They found that women experienced a more significant emotional shift when watching the nature documentary clips, and those between the ages of 16 and 24 showed the greatest reduction in nervousness and fatigue.
Overall, however, the majority of respondents experienced considerable boosts in positive emotions ranging from awe and joy to curiosity and amusement. A considerable decrease in emotions like nervousness, anxiety, fear, stress and tiredness was also noted in participants.
“What excites me about this study is seeing how Planet Earth II connects with people on a deep emotional level – as a filmmaker that is very rewarding,” said executive producer Mike Gunton.
“We're always striving to bring our audiences closer to nature and it's thrilling to see how this can generate such positive emotions and have a powerful impact on our viewer's mood and wellbeing.”
Researchers also reviewed 150 scientific papers that looked at the connection between nature and human happiness. Professor Dacher Keltner concluded that our link to nature enhanced our attention, cognitive performance and sense of calm.
“The shifts in emotion as a result of watching this powerful natural history series are significant as we know that wonder and contentment are the foundations of human happiness,” Keltner said.
“If people experience feelings of awe, they are more likely to display empathetic and charitable behaviors and have been shown to be better able to handle stress.”
BBC Earth has launched a digital platform called The Real Happiness Project as a direct response to the study. On the website, you can find a range of heart-warming animal clips, and can even personalize your content with a ‘Happybot’ that curates animal clips just for you.
If anything, it’s sure to provide some relief from the constant bickering between the animals on your social media feeds.