Everyone has an idea that taking a long hike, or even a short walk, in the woods is relaxing, but the new science behind what actually happens to us is quite amazing. I first heard a story on NPR about this a few years ago -- a neuroscientist was explaining how new parts of the brain light up when someone is interacting with nature. My first thought when listening to this was, "Of course it does." We have thousands of years of physiological evolution completely immersed and connected with nature, so our brains reacting in powerful ways when we reconnect really shouldn't surprise anyone.
Researchers in the U.S. are finding the same results, and I've started wondering if our two cultures will treat this new scientific knowledge in the same way. As Americans, we manipulate data for maximum results, so we'll tweak our city's green-spaces for maximum nature benefits to keep our workers healthy and alive. But the Japanese culture comes from a deeper sense of interconnectedness that we Americans just don't have -- hence the idea of shinrin-yoku. So instead of just having lunch in a city park, the Japanese are spending days forest bathing. We should follow their lead here.
From a conservationist standpoint, our countries having stressed out workers can be a blessing in disguise. As the money is trickling in for further research, we might get a foothold on a tangible reason to start protecting our wild and natural areas -- you know, other than the fact that we just should! There is nothing more urgent than the current state of our oceans right now. What most people do not realize is if our oceans die, then we die. Human life is not sustainable on this planet with dead oceans, and we already have massive dead-zone areas, one of the largest being in the Gulf of Mexico below New Orleans.
|Dead Zone in the Gulf|
I was thinking about the activities that mean the most to me and I realized that one of the things that most of them have in common is they are immune from the invasion of advertisements. This could even be a good rule of thumb--spend more time doing things that are immune to advertisements. Maybe advertisements are like weird chemical names in food labels--the more there are, the worse it is. But on the other hand, there are a lot of really great writers out there doing great work who make a living because ads surround their work, so it isn't that simple.
Either way, we are learning how we need nature, forests, and the oceans, not to just stay alive, but to also stay healthy and happy. Exploring the scientific basis of how they affect our emotions will hopefully steer us in the right direction of conservation, and not just speedy corporate manipulation with an industrial psychology slant. I'm cheering this research on, as all the people working their asses off on the front lines trying to reverse the dead zones in the oceans and reverse the steep animal extinction rate and deforestation rate need all the support they can get.