13 January 2013

Why Can't We Just Sit Quietly?

There was a little snippet in the Style section of the paper today on research done by a professor of psychology that shows spending time outdoors away from your phone and computer increases your creativity. The study made a group of people do some tests before and after going on long hiking trips in the wilds of America. Their creativity increased by 50%.

The scientists are dithering over whether it’s the outdoors or the absence of electronic equipment that is the cause of this increase, but it is good to see an authoritative source fully endorsing nature as beneficial.

One of the few solid beliefs I have is that being outside is a very good thing. I remember taking my daughter when she was a baby having one her mammoth crying fits out into the garden and it very quickly soothing her. Having said that, though, it now works the other way round: if she is in a tizz hooking her up to Facebook works wonders. But generally speaking I firmly believe the sky above your head and fresh air in your lungs are powerful medicine.

Just being outside is the important thing.

But it seems officialdom doesn’t agree. A mere uplifting of the spirits is not enough. Nature has to be productive. The study I mentioned measured people’s creativity with problem solving tests done on paper, and analysed the results in terms of brain activity in the pre-frontal cortex. It is as if people are being viewed as machines that can improve their output by being in a certain environment. ‘Take a walk so you can solve more problems and make more money.’

The mental health charity, Mind, has done some research on the benefits of being in the outdoors, and produced a report called ‘Ecotherapy’. All well and good, but once again they are talking of being active in the outdoors.

“The Ecotherapy report confirms that participating in green exercise activities provides substantial benefits for health and wellbeing”

“GPs should consider referral for green exercise as a treatment option”

“referral to green care projects – such as green care farms – should be incorporated into health and social care referral systems”

Exercise? Farms?

Mind runs a few ‘Ecominds’ projects “to provide a range of outdoor green activities”. Most of them involve gardening or art.

I realise there is a wide range of mental health problems, some of which do respond to actively doing something, but here I am questioning how the engagement with nature is framed. In that it seems to have to be useful, the outcome has to be the production of vegetables or the loss of a few pounds of fat.

Is there a place for simply sitting quietly outside and feeling happy, or happier?

Is this obsession with productivity and results due to our now being a thoroughly capitalistic society?