Saturday, January 26, 2013

'Why the beach makes us happy'


During the coldest week of winter thus far, the ocean unperturbed rolls in and out in liquid form, while the seashore is tundra, frozen and static.

Driving onto the beach, the sand crackles as the Dodge Ram climbs over the hard sediment encrusted with ice crystals.

My husband shuts off the engine, but the stiff Arctic wind keeps us inside. In minutes, the bright January sunshine warms the truck cabin, even though the temperature gauge registers 24 degrees without factoring wind chill.

Getting comfortable, I click off the seat belt, unbutton my wool coat and take out the February issue of “Coastal Living” magazine. The cover is mostly turquoise, the color of tropical waters and skies, highlighting the feature story about a house without walls on Scrub Island in the British Virgin Islands.

I sigh as I imagine summer at Fogland Beach, just five months away. Ugh!

The truck shifts as the icy wind batters the vehicle, and the antenna rattles in defiance.

But then another story catches my eye on the Contents page: “Why the Beach Makes Us Happy.”

The tease reads: “It’s almost universal. Just being by the sea puts us in a more blissful state of mind – and it turns out, there’s science behind it.”

Rifling through the pages, I find page 70 and satisfy my curiosity.

The first paragraph states the obvious: Beachgoers are attracted by the beauty and the freedom of a day at the beach. But then comes the science that writer Barry Yeoman cites as the reason why we experience such deep contentment by the water’s edge.

He points to the color blue which produces feelings of security and relaxation, as well as the acoustics.

“It turns out that the most pleasurable sounds have predictable wave patterns, middling to low pitches, soft volumes and harmonic frequencies at regular intervals – all characteristics of the ocean’s rhythms,” he writes.

My husband has cabin fever. He opens the door, and the cold wind rushes in. I lose my place and my patience, as I yell, “Hurry, shut the door!”

I button my coat and wrap my arms about me. Now, where was I?

According to Yeoman, “the root of our contentment might even be molecular… Ocean waves generate negative ions, charged air particles that have been linked to mental energy and emotional well-being.”

I wonder if icy winter particles have the opposite effect, but I keep on reading.

He winds up his theses with a side effect of a day at the beach, the memories that are made. Every time we remember a particular beach or see a photo, “we have those good experiences again,” he writes.

Shaking, my husband jumps back in the truck, starts the engine and cranks up the heat. I put down the magazine and strap on my seatbelt.

We happily drive away.






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