Here’s something to remember the next time you are planning a vacation or an extended holiday: being near the water is good for you. In fact, it’s really good for you. Whether it’s ocean, lake, pond, river, or stream, proximity to water has measurable benefits for people — physically, mentally, and emotionally.
An increasing body of scientific and medical evidence confirms the therapeutic effects of “blue spaces” and the state of “outdoor wellbeing.” This won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s taken a beach vacation or gone on a fishing trip. The presence of the water tends to draw people outside, where they get more sunshine and enjoy the benefits of vitamin D. They get more exercise because they are in attractive physical locations that motivate them to walk the beach or hike along the lakefront. The sounds of ocean surf or running streams are calming. The combination of exercise, fresh air, and pleasant sounds help visitors to get a good night’s sleep.
But there’s more to it. Water tends to have a curious effect on the human psyche — a kind of positive vibe that is mentally refreshing and restoring. Studies have consistently shown that people who are near water regularly maintain a better mood, feel less stress, and describe themselves as happier than inlanders. Maybe it’s the sights, maybe it’s the sounds, maybe it’s the smells . . . or maybe it’s that it all works in combination to make people near water a bit dreamier, a bit more contemplative, and a bit more reflective. Perhaps when you’re looking out over a vast ocean your problems just seem a lot smaller and therefore more manageable.
None of this is new — we’ve just forgotten it. In the first chapter of Moby Dick, published in 1851, Herman Melville’s character Ishmael writes: “If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.” But, as Melville notes, it’s not just the ocean that humans find attractive — it’s water, period. He writes:
“Once more. Say you are in the country; in some high land of lakes. Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries—stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region. Should you ever be athirst in the great American desert, try this experiment, if your caravan happen to be supplied with a metaphysical professor. Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.”
So, you want to feel better? Get out your calendar and plan a trip that allows you to answer the call of the water.