My husband is taking me on a tour of his new office building. It’s two years old, very modern, sleek, and colored a light smoky blue. We enter the marketing/sales wing, a square 50 yard rat maze of cubicles. There’s not one picture on the walls, and only one dusty, fake plant in a sea of fabricated half walls.
“What do you think?” he asks, weaving his way to his office. If they had not put a name plate on it, I’m not sure he, or anyone else, would be able to locate it twice.
“It’s awfully….sterile.” I whisper.
He looks around, as if he is SEEING his work space for the first time. “Yeah, it is kind of empty.” A room full of 43 people -- devoid of life. Not exactly the place I’d want anyone to spend the majority of their waking time.
Close your eyes and imagine the perfect place to live; the perfect space to work. Wait! Don’t describe it yet; let me guess. It has a sweeping view, with an open field of grass, partially shaded by mature trees and a fetching brook -- or is that a river, maybe a lake, or the sea. Was I surprisingly close?
Research has shown that throughout every culture, people are drawn to these specific natural features. Edward O. Wilson, a biologist at Harvard, has coined a name for this phenomenon: Biophilia (say it again but with a heavy Italian accent and it rings like a Latin name for Mother Earth). “Whenever people are given a free choice, they move to open, tree-studded land on prominences overlooking water.” An interesting fact when you consider that most of us spend an estimated 90 percent of our time boxed within drywall.
It’s not an accident that many of us have our aspirations set on that office with the window, or that we wanted the bedroom with the best view as a kid. Research is turning up some impressive evidence backing what we instinctually already know; exposure to nature effects our productivity.
Stress Reduction - Byoung-Suk Kweon ran a study where she purposely maximized stress and anger in participants as they took a computer test that was impossible to pass. She found that the participants who tested in a room with a glimpse of nature; pictures, artwork, or a window, had significantly lower stress and anger.
Sharper Focus - Another study had 200 office workers take a span of cognitive tests, revealing that the strongest predictor of a better performance was -- no, not the size of their monitor -- but rather having an unobstructed window view of nature.
Marc Berman, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, studied office workers who took a daily stroll through a park versus those who took a daily walk along the city streets. His team found the nature hike sharpened memory and attention by 20 percent, while the city walk did not show near the benefits.
So what do we do about it? Don’t wait for an-office-with-a-view to increase your productivity; schedule a short nature walk into your work day. If someone you love is spending serious hours in a cubicle, gift them a bit of nature this Christmas (recommendations to come). And if you’re the boss and wouldn’t mind a 20% increase in the productivity of your staff in the coming year, start pulling in the green.
Are you searching for optimal health? Get yourself into the trees for something the Japanese call forest bathing. Some fascinating new research out of the Nippon Medical School has identified essential wood oils that trees release, called phytoncides, which end up having a positive effect on our health. In one study, men 35 to 56 spent three days and nights in the forest and the same amount of time in a city. They found that the forest boosted immunity by increasing natural killer cells and other anticancer proteins. These changes persisted for at least a week. You can keep munching blueberries, but it may be more proactive to dedicate serious time to that lone hammock swinging beneath the trees in your backyard.
In England new hospitals are being designed to maximize sunlight and green space, while the United States is moving in the opposite direction. Landmark research is showing that patients assigned to a room with a view of the trees recover faster, have fewer complications and require less pain medication.
Not surprisingly, we’re also discovering that children who regularly play in nature have twice as many friends (as do their parents) and people living in housing projects whose apartments overlook trees are less angry, feel more attentive and love chatting it up with their neighbors.
Giving the gift of nature (and its remarkable list of benefits) does not involve revamping your brother-in-law’s back yard. You may be surprised how easy, creative, and affordable the gift of nature can be. Here are a few of Owning Pink’s favorite gift ideas if you’re trying to connect to Mother Earth:
Have you found a great way to bring nature into your work and living space? Please share. Otherwise, think GREEN as you begin your holiday shopping bonanza. Find a gift that meets more than the eyes, but feeds the soul, nurtures the body and inspires the mind. And may you too be blessed with a very, merry Holiday Season!
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