“Will I really be happier at the beach?”
Yes. And science can now prove it.
Marine Biologist Wallace J. Nichols, Ph. D. teamed up with a group of neuroscientists to study this phenomenon. In 2011, Nichols’ first Blue Mind Summit took place in San Francisco. He joined with brain researchers, ocean experts and environmental advocates to explore the ocean’s effect on us and vice versa. Over the ensuing years, this group continued to meet, research, and experiment. Their findings are fascinating. Here are a few of their discoveries according to Barry Yeoman’s article “Why the Beach Makes Us Happy”:
- The most pleasurable sounds to human ears have predictable wave patterns, middling to low pitches, soft volumes, and harmonic frequencies at regular intervals. These are all characteristics of the ocean’s rhythms. Ocean sounds actually decrease cortisol levels.
- The ocean’s sound probably triggers deep memories of safety from the womb and your mother’s heartbeat. When compared to similar acoustic profiles, only ocean sounds activated the brain’s medial prefrontal cortex, which is associated with emotion and self-reflection.
- The flat plane of the ocean ties to our species’ desire to find safety in environments of low complexity. At the beach, there’s no place for threats to hide.
- The tactile sensation of sand also carries emotional weight. Have you ever sat on the beach mindlessly playing with wet or dry sand? It soothes the body and mind.
- Large water bodies also have symbolic resonance, according to Dr. Jordan Grafman, Director of brain-injury research at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. The mysteriousness of the ocean has beckoned explorers for thousands of years. As we think about its vastness, “we are lead to calmness or excitement – both of which improve our mood,” says Gafman, who has studied depression and posts-traumatic stress.
- Ocean waves generate negative ions, charged air particles that have been linked to mental energy and emotional well-being.
- Dr. Catherine Lowry Fanssen, a neuroscientist at Longwood University in Virginia, says, “Our neurochemical stress response tells our bodies to move – whether it’s a good long walk on the beach, boating, or something a little bit more extreme like surfing. You go on a beach vacation and you take bike rides, and you take walks, and you say, ‘Oh my gosh, even though I ate all this food, I was more physically active than I normally am in my life. I feel so good.’ You come back and find that, you’ve got a verve and energy.”
So there you have it: scientific proof that you should buy the beach house. You won’t merely be making a real estate investment. You’ll be making a scientifically-proven investment in happiness.
Read more in the book Blue Mind by Dr. Wallace J. Nichols.