Why would the city of Tempe, Arizona spend $44.8 million to construct 225-acre Tempe Lake in the barren Salt River bed? In Moreno Valley, California, developers expended over $5 million to construct a 35-acre lake to be the focal point of their upscale community. An untold amount was spent by the Howard Hughes Corporation to construct Woodlands Waterway outside of Houston and surround it with luxury condos. Why go to these great expenses? Scientists are beginning to study what we know instinctually – hearing, seeing and feeling water has a positive effect on us. We may not know the science behind it but we know it is true. The Lakes Region has 273 lakes, rivers and ponds drawing people from all over the world. The reason? Researchers believe we have a "blue mind."
"We are beginning to learn that our brains are hardwired to react positively to water and that being near it can calm and connect us, increase innovation and insight, and even heal what's broken," says marine biologist Wallace Nichols. His book, Blue Mind, released in July 2015, compiles the latest findings in neuroscience with personal stories from top athletes, leading scientists, military veterans, and gifted artists. We have a blue mind – "a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment" – that is activated when we are near or in water (Gregoire, 2016, Huffington Post).
For decades, scientists have studied the effects of green space and classical music on mental wellness. The results are so pronounced that green space is factored into urban planning and Mozart is played in maternity ward nurseries. Much in the same way, water is now being studied with some surprising findings:
1. Water gives our mind a rest. According to Nichols, "When we're near, on, in or under water, we get a cognitive break...our brains don't shut down — they keep working, but in a different way."
2. Water can induce a meditative state. "When we're by the water, our brains are held in a state of mild attentiveness," says Nichols. This leads to lower stress levels, improved mental clarity and focus, relief from mild anxiety, pain, and depression, and higher sleep quality.
3. Viewing water invokes a sense of awe. "The emotion of awe invokes feelings of a connection to something beyond oneself, a sense of the vastness of nature and an attempt to make sense of the experience. That switches you from a 'me' orientation to a 'we' orientation." Some researchers believe this explains why many of life's important moments such as engagements, weddings and honeymoons overwhelmingly take place by the water.
4. A blue mind is a creative mind. Being by the water can trigger the part of your brain associated with imagination, insight, consolidation of memories, self-referential thought, and introspection (Gregoire).
The positive effects of water beyond enjoyment are undeniable. A study in England showed a gradient where the closer people lived to the shoreline the healthier they were. In nursing homes, it was discovered that patients experienced the same positive mental effects from viewing aquariums even when the fish were removed (Smedley, 2013, The Guardian). There is evidence that activities in water such as surfing have benefitted soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder where drugs and other conventional treatments have failed. Interacting with water was also found to have positive effects on disorders of the brains such as autism (Nichols).
There is no question that the waters of the Lakes Region have many positive effects on those who live and visit here. Countless reviews on TripAdvisor point to this very fact. Bob from New York said "the lake is breathtaking...wonderful and peaceful break from the day to day hectic pace...just sit on the dock and take in the sights and sounds...our happy place." A visitor from Canada said "staying on the shores of this lake was ethereal, with the sounds of water lapping on the shore" while Riki from Oklahoma said that "on this beautiful sparkling lake...time seems to slip away." A visitor from Maine called the lakes "heavenly" and said Winnipesaukee was "the dreamiest lake I have ever been to." Maurene K. said "it was so peaceful to watch the sun dance on the tiny ripples in the lake's surface." A visitor from Nigeria was taken aback by our "unimaginable huge lake with the sun hitting it and reflecting various colors due to the angle of light," and another traveler from India called the Lakes Region "a very calm, peaceful, and scenic place." In writing about Winnipesaukee, Mikeal S. was simply "amazed at how awesome it was." Pat A., who called herself a lifelong enthusiast of the Lakes Region, said, "My best inspirations and ideas come when I am looking out over the lake."
Do you want your blue mind to tap into the benefits of water? Find a green knoll and sit a spell while you listen to Mozart and watch the waves lap the shore of one of the many waterbodies in the Lakes Region. You never know what insight might pop into your mind.
Please feel free to visit www.rocherealty.com to learn more about the Lakes Region and its real estate market. Mary O'Neill is a sales associate at Roche Realty Group in Meredith and Laconia, and can be reached at 366-6306. rocherealty.com