The Power of Blue Spaces: Why Being Near Water can make You Happier

As the weather gets warmer and summer draws ever closer, surely there are many fantasizing about a stroll on the beach, laying on the sand and getting that much needed vitamin sea. 

Truly, a trip to the beach delights visitors of all ages. 

Those who frequently vacation by the oceans and lakes can attest to its power to calm, relax and rejuvenate the mind; even more so, the lucky few who have beach houses or homes near the beach and the sea. It’s no wonder that luxury beach resorts and hotels are becoming much preferred vacation spots and people are willing to pay a premium for a short stay. 

Blue spaces are the sea or coastline – when you see unobstructed cerulean all the way. It also points to lakes, rivers, canals, waterfalls and even fountains. When it comes to urban planning, blue spaces refer to areas in design that are dominated by surface water bodies or courses. 

Similar to green spaces, blue spaces have positive impacts on people’s physical and mental well-being. Whether it be green spaces – grass, trees, woodlands, parks – or blue spaces – sea, ocean, lakes, waterfalls – nature and organic ecosystems have the power to heal people.

Photo Source: Negative Space

The book: Blue Mind: The Surprising Science that Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do, by marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols details the benefits of how spending time near water can achieve an elevated and sustained happiness. 

Have you ever had that feeling of ‘seeing red’ – feeling angry, anxious and stressed? Well, welcome to the new normal of postmodern experience – that’s called the ‘red mind’ or toxic stress that interferes with rational thought. But don’t despair, as opposed to that, there is something called the ‘blue mind’. 

According to Nichols, our ‘blue mind’ refers to the sense of peace and calm we feel when near water. The escape from the overstimulated modern society and way of life and basking in that rare moment of solitude. 

Photo source: Negative Space

Research suggests that Mother Nature’s restorative powers have long been relied on or ‘used’ by people – how the ‘sea air’ can cure many quandaries that may burden the body and mind. Other studies show living near the coasts or the sea can generally make people happier and healthier. 

While some findings show that stress levels drop when shown photos of natural green spaces, they also observed higher preference for photos with blue spaces. 

People look for it but that feeling you get from being near the water is hard to articulate when asked why, “You’re paying for a feeling,” Nichols tells Condé Nast Traveler. “When you ask people to describe that feeling, it’s hard for them to describe other than to say they really like it, need it, and are willing to pay a lot of money for it.”

In his book, he summarizes the benefits of being near water to include: lower levels of stress and anxiety, lower heart and breathing rate connoting a calmer and more relaxed body and mind and an overall better sense of wellbeing and happiness. 

Nichols also adds that “water boosts creativity, can enhance the quality of conversations and provides a backdrop to important parts of living — like play, romance and grieving.” 

Take a quick listen Nichols “Exploring Our Blue Mind” TED Talk below:

Video Source: YouTube

So, if you’re deciding where to go this summer, here are five reasons why you should spend more time near the water: 

1. It relaxes your mind and body

Since the 18th and 19th centuries, doctors have been prescribing the ‘sea air’ or a visit to the ocean for people who are suffering from mental health. Nowadays, the constant buzz of our phones and being inundated with information from all sides is a steady cause of stress and anxiety. 

But, as you sit on the sand or lie on your beach towel under a large colorful umbrella and listen to the ebbing and flowing of the waves, this repetitive and predictable sound de-stimulates your brain, allowing it to relax. 

“The color blue has been found by an overwhelming amount of people to be associated with feelings of calm and peace,” says Richard Shuster, PsyD, clinical psychologist and host of The Daily Helping Podcast. “Staring at the ocean changes our brain waves’ frequency and puts us into a mild meditative state.”

Photo Source: Unsplash | Briana Tozour

2. It can help you heal

Healing comes in the physical and mental sense. Green spaces and green exercise have the power to relieve stress and anxiety. Studies have also shown that being near the ocean has a profound impact on our mental health

There are different elements on the beach that provide this effect:

  • The color blue has always been used to convey calmness. Our attraction to the color blue – and aquatic hues – may be proof of our affinity with water. Sometimes, surrounding ourselves in blue is a way to reduce stress.
  • Repetitive sounds of waves crashing the shore is a soft pattern that allows the brain to enter into a meditative state, giving it a rest from overstimulation and telling it not to worry.
  • Salty, misty air is charged with negative ions that have the capacity to calm the brain and alleviate gloomy moods and depressing feelings.
  • Walking barefoot and feeling the warm, tingling sensation from the sand beneath your feet has stimulating effects on the body and mind. It increases that feeling of connecting with nature and similar to how we breathe in those negative ions in the ocean’s air, our feet have a network of nerves and acupuncture points that can absorb free ions from the earth’s surface

Photo Source: Unsplash | Toa Heftiba

“There are all these cognitive and emotional benefits that we derive every time we spend time by water,” said Nichols. “Once you get into it, you realize that it’s chemistry, it’s biology, it’s physiology. It’s deeply personal but it’s also strong science.”

3. A blue mind is more creative

When in a creative rut, hopping in the shower is a great way to get new ideas and trigger the mind. Similarly, being by the water can help give you that mental refresh. Just like any other part of the body, the brain also needs time to ‘rest, recover and recharge’ – and a relaxed brain is often a more creative one. 

When our brains are not on overdrive or strained and tired from constant screen exposure and churning information, we give it a chance to develop new and unusual connections or pathways. This is called the brain’s default mode network.

Photo source: Unsplash | Tùng Lê Bá

When the brain rests, this slower-paced, engagement mode it goes into is associated with imagination, insights and introspection – a time very important for creativity. 

“The shower is a proxy for the Pacific Ocean or the Atlantic Ocean,” says Nichols. “You step in the shower, and you remove a lot of the visual stimulation of your day. Auditorily, it’s the same thing – it’s a steady stream of ‘blue noise.’ You’re not hearing voices or processing ideas. You step into the shower and it’s like a mini-vacation.”

Photo Source: Unsplash | Cody Black

4. It helps you feel more connected to the world and to yourself

Following the previous point of letting the brain achieve that meditative, relaxed state, mindfulness comes from being near water. The ocean connects us with nature and shows us that we are a small part of the universe. 

This increases our ability to feel empathy and connection to others. Studies have shown that reaching a more positive overall state comes from feeling a bigger connection with things around us – and spending time in nature and water can help with this. 

In Nichols’ book, he states that immersions in nature can grow the altruistic side of people and make them more caring. 

Photo Source: Unsplash | Cody Black

5. Blue spaces lift your mood

Combining all the previous points mentioned, it comes as no surprise that water and being near it can make you happier. Blue spaces give that restorative effect by reducing stress and anxiety levels and inducing a positive mood. 

Being close to nature has the power to make people happier, even more so when you’re  near the water. Researchers found that green spaces can have positive impacts on mood but those with access to open waters show significantly higher improvement in mental wellbeing.

Nichols also cites several studies including one study in Ireland which states that people living within 5 kilometers of the coast are happier. It probably also makes sense why Hawaii is America’s happiest state.

Photo Source: Unsplash | Leo Rivas

Therefore, next time you’re thinking of where to go for a short break from the hustle and bustle, the beach might be a great and healthy choice. Or when you’re looking for a property to buy, a beach house may have climbed higher on your priority list after reading these advantages. Of course, this all depends on whether the water is safe, healthy and clean.

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