For two decades, Florence Williams could sit on her porch at night and watch the alpenglow on the Rocky Mountains. Then she moved from remote Colorado to Washington, D.C., and started noticing the changes.

“I felt disoriented, overwhelmed, depressed,” she writes in her recent book, The Nature Fix. “My mind had trouble focusing. I couldn’t finish thoughts … and I wasn’t keen to get out of bed.”

Williams was suffering, she says, from nature withdrawal. She spent the next three years digging into the science of how nature works on our brains. In short, it makes us more relaxed, more creative, and more socially connected. She traveled to Japan and Finland, the deserts of Utah and the urban forests of Singapore, to study just how much we stand to gain by bring nature back into our lives.

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Norton

At a time when more than half of all humans live in cities, the influence of the natural world is at a low ebb, while our understanding of its importance keeps growing. In a recent visit to the Grist offices, Williams talked about how writing this book led her to appreciate the role nature can play in our personal lives, not to mention our politics. (This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

Q. So many writers and philosophers and scientists have evangelized for nature, but we still don’t seek it out as much as we should. Why are we so bad at remembering that we actually like going outside?