In a world where you have to fight disease, change jobs, and manage marriages, it can be breathtaking to actually stumble upon happiness. And where we live matters for mood. Cities can feel cramped and the suburbs too bland, making it impossible to find a little joy.
But living near one place, in particular, can soothe your soul and make you happy. The ocean.
Getting toes into the soft sand and letting waves wash over is an easy mood boost for those on the coast, yet for anyone, just getting near water is happiness-inducing. A calm body of water is like a ‘Blue Gym’ of sorts, even for people that have only public access to it, studies show. Researchers at the European Centre for Environmental Health said “… living near the sea seemed to confer the greatest health-related benefit on those living in the poorest areas.”
Living near the ocean, “lowers stress and anxiety, increasing an overall sense of well-being and happiness, a lower heart and breathing rate, and safe, better workouts. Aquatic therapists are increasingly looking to the water to help treat and manage PTSD, addiction, anxiety disorders, autism, and more,” says Dr. Wallace J. Nichols in his book of a similar title, Blue Mind.
The idea that peaceful waters bring a peaceful mind is nothing new. It’s why people pay a lot to live on the lakefront or beachfront property. But the research backs up more than this.
Having a home near water means you might rest better at night. A soundtrack of ocean sounds for sleep makes sense, since our brains interpret the sound as non-threatening. Getting away from sirens or other alarming sounds sets our brains, and sleep patterns, at ease.
Looking at ocean life can also keep you stress-free. Just looking at a fish tank can boost mood and lower blood pressure, a UK study shows. The more plants and fish, or biodiversity the better we feel.
Overall, having the outdoors is helpful, but so is making more of it available. We can create blue gyms, even in urban areas. Another study showed how getting water within walking or commuting distance makes people, together as a whole, be in a better mood.
Just getting to a park, minus water, improves happiness by 7% in some Londoners.
“Given the emerging evidence base for the benefits of nature contact, greater effort should be made to increase access to nature to help address the significant health inequities that people from low-opportunity neighborhoods experience, in contrast to their privileged counterparts” said researchers in Science Advances. And opening up lakes and ponds and beaches to more of the public is one way we can keep our cities happy.
So next time you feel overwhelmed or tired or down, splash down to get happy. You can drive to a city pond, float on river water or save up for that bungalow you want on the beach, but sinking into some blue water is just the trick to let the blues in you melt away.
In the words of the great essayist and naturalist John Burroughs, we can always find happiness outdoors.
“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more.”