Why we love watching the sea
Something very strange happens to us human beings when we look out at the sea. It’s not the slightly open mouth or the sighs of ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ that involuntarily escape it. Rather, it is the overwhelming feeling of calm, well-being and oneness with the big blue expanse before us that is so unusual.
As a letting agent for holiday homes in Cornwall, there aren’t many days go by without a conversation about sea views. Booking clients are thrilled to hear that they’ll be able to enjoy their toast and marmalade while staring out at a glistening morning seascape. A good handful of our holidaymakers have returned to the same cottage every single year since the business started twelve years ago. They tell me how they spend the rest of the year daydreaming about being back beside the sea again. This is not a Cornish phenomenon either. All over the world the words ‘sea views’ found in an estate agent’s property description make people go slightly doolalee, whilst imparting a premium price-tag in comparison to a bigger and more luxurious abode found just ten miles inland.
I remember childhood holidays and the moment that, as we drove over the last hill and into view of our seaside destination, my dad would sing ‘I can see the seaside!’ to cheers of excitement from rest of the car. This was completely ridiculous as we have always lived within five minutes of the beach and a view of the blue stuff was an almost certain daily occurrence. But there really was something so intrinsically wonderful about that first glimpse of the sea.
Now, as an adult and resident of the lovely port of Falmouth, my favourite part of each day is when my evening jog reaches its halfway mark at Pendennis Point and I am rewarded for my efforts thus far with 300 degrees of ocean. At this moment any thoughts that have been occupying my mind seem to dissipate into total insignificance. An evening without this ritual can leave me feeling slightly agitated and unable to detach from the days trials.
I have spent a lot of time pondering reasons for our powerful connection with the sea and here I would like to share some of my thoughts with you:
When we talk about other planets in the solar system being able to support life or not, the one thing we are usually looking for is water. H2O is essential to all known life on Planet Earth. Plants, most of which are over 90% water in mass, use it to transport nutrients from their roots to their leaves, with green leaved species then using it to photosynthesise and grow. Humans, with our blood consisting of 80% water, need it for breaking down minerals and nutrients and then helping deliver them to our organs. We also use it for regulating our body temperature, flushing waste from our liver and kidneys and keeping our mouths and eyes lubricated.
As such, having access to water is essential for human survival. Our settlements have always been built near sources of it, with other benefits including irrigation of crops, sanitation, food and transportation. Since the first homo sapiens walked the Earth 200,000 years ago, we been constantly looking for water. It is inevitable then that we have evolved with an instinctive sense of joy at its sight.
More than half of the people living on Earth today live in an urban environment, with five percent inhabiting cities of over 10 million people. The world has never been more crowded and, as such, the psychological and physiological need for people to escape to the country or seaside, and a view of something green or blue, has never been stronger.
We use words like ‘retreat’, ‘escape’ and ‘hideaway’ to describe holiday properties, particularly those in rural areas. We want to use our precious holidays to get as far away from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives as possible and for this reason many of us are drawn the the seaside, where you simply can’t get any further away without jumping aboard a boat. No matter the commotion is behind us, when we gaze out from the shore all we see is freedom and timeless tranquility.
It is now widely accepted that colours have significant and varying psychological effects on us. Colour therapy (also called ‘chromotherapy’), where patients are exposed to coloured lights in order to induce beneficial states of mind, is increasingly being used to treat those suffering from mental and physical ailments.
Blue, the primary colour of the sea, is commonly used in colour therapy to promote feelings of relaxation and calmness. Hyperactive children, for example, are helped with concentration intensive tasks like doing homework by sitting under a blue light. It is also known to help us think with clarity, providing the stillness of mind needed for us to effectively solve creative and pragmatic problems.
Green, which combines with blue to give us the aqua-marine colour often used to describe the sea, is known for having a similarly soothing effect, creating feelings of harmony and balance within us. The dominant colour on Earth, green symbolises life, energy and growth. Exposure to green light is used to lower blood pressure, help tissue growth and even balance metabolism to stabilise weight problems.
Yellow, which we may well see in the form of sandy beaches, is recognised as promoting cheerfulness, learning and confidence. It is used to treat people with depression and those struggling with motivation.
You could say that when we look out at a sea view we are undergoing a kind of subconscious colour therapy.
The next time you are at the beach take a moment to close your eyes and open your ears.
The first thing you might notice is the sound of waves crashing on the shore. This sound is often played in the background of yoga and mediation classes, whilst insomnia sufferers report that it helps them to slip into much needed slumber. An odd effect but one that science can explain. Our brains are always hungry for new stimulus through our senses, even when we’re asleep. When we hear the white-noise like sound created when waves crash onto sand that thirst for information is quenched. However, our brain is unable to decifer any meaning from it. It is similar listening to a song with lyrics in a language we cannot understand. Our brain ceases in trying to interpret the noise and is then able to relax, still satisfied.
The second thing you may notice is a slow and consistent rhythm to the crashing. We first experience rhythm in the womb, with our mother’s heartbeat. We go on to discover rhythm in many things that we do, such as walking, talking and eating. We even set different sounds to a rhythmical structure, creating what we call ‘music’. When we listen to music our brains automatically try to synchronise with its beat. Slow music causes our brainwaves (electrical impulses that pass through our brains) to decrease in frequency becoming the slower theta and delta brainwaves, which we commonly experience during sleep. The same thing is happening when we are lulled by the sound of the sea. Our mind psychically slows downs.
With these factors combined, it is hardly surprising that we should feel such a deeply positive and rewarding connection with that big blue expanse. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off for a little sea view therapy on the beach!