“It’s when we are lost in the wild that the mind is finally at home.”
Jonah Lehrer, Wall Street Journal
In our world of multi-tasking, overworking, and excessive digital consumption it is not a stretch for people to feel stifled creatively. In fact, I don’t know about you but I seem to run on overdrive most days; struggling to just keep up with stuff I have to do, leaving little time for enjoying things that I want to do. And as far as having mental space to even be creative? Forget about it! My brain actually feels foggy and the “good ideas” sometimes seem to live miles away. But there are times when I do feel exceptionally clear, refreshed and creative: 1) after 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep (which are few and far in between with two kids under 5! 2) after 4 days of vacation and 3) when I am in nature. In those moments it’s like someone took the lid off my thinking cap and the ideas or inspiration just flood in.
Recent studies show that I am not alone. A Wall Street Journal article by Jonah Lehrer, states that due to urbanization and our increased dependence on technology that “Humans are quickly becoming an indoor species.” Lehrer goes on to further discuss the latest research being conducted at the University of Kansas with Outward Bound, which shows the power that nature has to both calm the mind and spur creativity.
“The results were surprising: The hikers in the midst of nature showed a nearly 50% increase in performance on the test of creativity, and the effect held across all age groups.”
I felt the effects of this nature-related creativity boost just last week. I took a much needed “me break” to celebrate my culmination from the University of Southern California, where I have been working for the last year and a half on a Master’s in Communication Management. I packed up my Mama and my two babies (plus their necessary wares) and we took a family road trip up to Carmel, Ca. We stayed in a cute cottage by the Carmel River and visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium. On the way home, we did the long drive back down Hwy 1 making stops on the 17 mile drive, Big Sur, Pfifer State Park and Moonstone Beach, taking in the dramatic seascape drive and the redwood forests that make this region so gorgeous and unique.
“There’s a growing advantage over time to being in nature,” says Dr. Atchley. “We think that it peaks after about three days of really getting away, turning off the cellphone. It’s when you have an extended period of time surrounded by that softly fascinating environment that you start seeing all kinds of positive effects in how your mind works.”
It was only a three day trip but I can tell you that it did wonders for my psyche, and that of the children. Just being in the trees, exploring the beach, and dragging our feet through the river did something to wash away all of our urban/digital grime. We all came back refreshed and I came back inspired to write. The truth is that I keep my children extremely busy, but mostly, we stay in the city. Even our hikes are urban ones at Kenneth Hahn or Griffith Park–kind of in nature, but kind of not. Many urban families share this same reality.
“From 2006 to 2010, the percentage of young children regularly engaging in outdoor recreation fell by roughly 15 percentage points.”
In the rare moments when I am out of the city, taking in the vast emptiness that seems to occupy rural areas I often find myself wondering what my life would look like if I made different life choices. Could I shed my urban-girl skin and set up shop with a house, garden and my babies? Would I be happier without my laptop and iPhone? More importantly, would my kids be the better for it?
“This also helps to explain an effect on children with attention-deficit disorder. Several studies show that, when surrounded by trees and animals, these children are less likely to have behavioral problems and are better able to focus on a particular task.”
Who knows, but there is something that feels novel about living the slower life. Either way, the studies support spending more time outdoors and show the benefits for both adults and children.
Quotes taken from “Mom Was Right: Go Outside,” by Jonah Lehrer on the Wall Street Journal Blog.