There are reasons why we’re so drawn to lakes, rivers, and oceans. The immeasurable sense of peace that we feel around water can be scientifically explained.
If you talk to Wallace J. Nichols, Ph.D., a marine biologist and the author of Blue Mind, a book about the physical and psychological benefits of water, for long enough, he’ll eventually ask you what your water is. And as it turns out, nearly everyone has an answer.
Since humans started exploring the planet, we’ve followed the water. Crossing oceans gave way to new discoveries and changed the course of history; chasing rivers opened our horizons.
The immeasurable sense of peace that we feel around water is what Nichols calls our “blue mind”—a chance to escape the hyper-connected, over-stimulated state of modern day life, in favor of a rare moment of solitude. Research has long found that humans are pulled toward Mother Nature’s blue for, in part, its restorative benefits. Take the Victorians for example: Doctors in that era prescribed “sea air” as a cure for all sorts of issues, from pulmonary complications to mental health conditions.
More recent studies—including those out of a UK-based project called Blue Gym—have found that people who live near the coasts are generally healthier and happier. Other studies find that when shown photographs of natural green spaces, people’s stress levels drop, but the more blue spaces in the photos, the more people prefer them. Nichols, who has spent the last 25 years studying our relationship to water, has heard of everything from a drop of dew on a flower to the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, providing a sense of calm.
Real estate data even suggests a water view tacks a 116.1 percent premium on a property; and real-world figures suggest we’re willing to pay 10 to 20 percent more for the same room with a sea view in a hotel.
Offering us an auditory break, water even helps us fall asleep. “There is some research that says people may sleep better when they are adjacent to nature,” explains W. Christopher Winter, M.D., author of The Sleep Solution. “No wonder sleep machines always feature the sounds of rain, the ocean, or a flowing river.” One small study out of Northwestern University found that people who fell asleep listening to “pink noise”—sounds like rushing water or rain falling on pavement—not only slept more deeply but the experience also boosted their memories.
When we physically enter the water, our body can rest muscles used every day, and work others that are used far less frequently. Not only that, but we give up gravity, something that’s somatically a break for your brain. For some, time spent in the water is an opportunity for insightful thinking, creative output, and quality conversations.