Spring has sprung! Has the urge to go outside and bask in the sunlight or stroll through the park become so strong that you can no longer ignore it? You know the feeling…you’re sitting at your desk or around the conference room table, and through the window you see clear blue skies and can think of nothing else except escaping the office and going outside to play—run, surf, cycle, whatever—as long as it involves breathing fresh air, you’ll be happy. Maybe the drive is deeper and what you crave is not just ditching the daily grind, but truly immersing yourself in the wonders of wilderness and spending some time in a pure and natural environment. Admit it, we’ve all been there, but what is it exactly about the call of the wild that is so irresistible? Why do some people feel so compelled to connect with nature?
The answer lies in evidence that it’s not only good for your body; it’s also good for your brain. In a series of behavioral science studies, researchers demonstrated that spending time outside on good weather days, particularly in the springtime when it’s warm and sunny, can positively affect memory, mood, and openness to new ideas that leads to creative and flexible thinking styles. Another key finding is that people who spent more time indoors experienced the opposite effects of their outdoor counterparts. So if you’re struck with spring fever, then it would behoove you to get outside and scratch that itch!
Decades before environmental and cognitive psychologists began studying the mental health benefits of spending time in nature, John Muir (1838 – 1914) himself advocated the now substantiated claims of increased mental clarity and reduced fatigue through stimulation of the senses in the great outdoors. This legendary Scottish-American naturalist and conservationist is affectionately called the Father of National Parks and is the beloved founder of the Sierra Club, one of the foremost organizations dedicated to wilderness preservation. An eloquent writer and speaker, John Muir’s inspirational message is crisp and clear: In order to be whole with yourself, you must first be one with nature. If that statement rings true with you, then find out how much you emulate this iconic environmentalist and renowned nature-lover by taking the Sierra Club’s quiz: How Muir Are You?
An explorer at heart, I have long admired the work of John Muir and I often dream of traveling in his footsteps. When I entered my doctoral program four years ago, I quickly learned the lifestyle fate of all graduate students: goodbye sunshine and social life; hello Friday night dates at home with my laptop. Determined to succeed and hopeful that extrinsic motivation would help carry me through, I dug in my heels and set a goal that when I finally finish the program someday, I will reward myself with an epic backpacking adventure! Living in Southern California, I set my sights on thru-hiking the majestic John Muir Trail, a 211-mile long journey in the High Sierra back country which passes through Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks, and ends at the top of Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States (elevation 14,497 feet). Although I have not yet earned the grand prize, the mountains have been calling me and every once in a while, I must go!
During my second year of graduate school I joined a group of 8 hikers who climbed Mt. Whitney, and I remember one of my companions asking what in the world I had in my pack that made it heavier than everyone else’s when we weighed in at the portal. I’m sure I’m not the only hiker in history to foolishly load her pack with journal articles and books to read at camp after a day of grueling high-elevation trekking, but I certainly would not recommend it. Not only was I too exhausted to concentrate on reading, but more importantly I found that my mind was more drawn to simply sitting and being than engaging in any sort of academic exercise. Although my body was weary at the summit, my mind had never felt so awake and open and free! I wanted nothing more than to just sit and be, to listen and smell and feel, to observe and appreciate the raw and captivating beauty and energy of the environment all around me. If you’ve spent any time in the wilderness, then like John Muir, you know exactly what I mean. And if you haven’t…what are you waiting for???
About the Author:
Sarah is a Professional Services Intern at The Ken Blanchard Companies. She is also pursuing a Ph.D. in Consulting Psychology and her research is based on mindfulness. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.