I am now living closer to the ocean than at any other time in my life. For most of my life, I lived in a landlocked city that required 4-5 hours of driving for a glimpse of the sea. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy being closer to a coast now. I find it completely mesmerizing, almost addictive, to stare at the ocean and watch the sunlight sparkle on the water. To gaze at the horizon, where the ocean meets the sky.
It is hardly news, of course, that people find it calming to be around water. We know, and humans have probably always known, that water has a soothing and healing quality. In his book Blue Mind, Wallace J. Nichols describes the many benefits of being in and near water. Looking at water can induce a meditative state, allowing our brain the downtime it needs to function in a clearer, more creative way.
While being near water is certainly calming for many of us, time spent in nature of any kind is beneficial. A wealth of research now shows that our health and well-being benefit from exposure to nature. Time spent outdoors gives our brain time to rest. It makes us happier, improves our mental health, and eases stress. Our immune system receives a boost. Even something as simple as having a forest view though an office window can increase job satisfaction and reduce stress. Exposure to nature broadens our perspective and entices us to raise our gaze away from what is immediately in front of us, towards the expansive sky.
For children, time spent outdoors can protect vision and is associated with reduced myopia (nearsightedness). As adults, our vision also benefits from being outdoors and gazing at the horizon. When you shift your gaze from close objects to distant ones, muscles in your eyes relax.
This research would not have surprised Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote:
The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough.
I am always fascinated by how much poets and artists “know” years/decades/centuries before science catches up.
Most of us spend the vast majority of our time looking at close objects, namely our screens. Shifting our gaze toward the horizon, whether it’s a field, the ocean, or a forest, gives our bodies and brains a chance to change perspective and rest a little bit.
This week, I challenge you to spend a little more time outdoors than usual. We didn’t evolve to sit in offices, with our eyes glued to a screen a few feet in front of us. We are part of nature and our bodies were designed to function best in nature. Simply being outside can help us reconnect with our natural world, while giving our minds and bodies a little boost too.
If you need me, I’ll be outside, sinking my toes into the sand, watching the sun slip under the horizon, and possibly daydreaming.